Home > Uncategorized > Vermont’s State Board “Shines a Light” on ESSA

Vermont’s State Board “Shines a Light” on ESSA

August 9, 2016

In her blog post yesterday, Diane Ravitch shined a light on the Vermont State Board of Education, hailing their letter to Secretary of Education John King as “brilliant”, and noting that “Vermont education officials think for themselves”.

As one who served as a Superintendent in a Vermont district for seven years and currently works as a consultant in Vermont I am pleased that Ms. Ravitch recognizes the independent thinking that exists throughout the State and especially pleased that she shared the letter the State Board composed in response to ESSA. I encourage anyone who reads this blog to read the letter in its entirety, but want to shine a light on some phrases that underscore many of the points made in previous posts on this blog. Most importantly, as the italicized phrases indicate, the State Board recognizes that real improvement cannot be accomplished without the commitment of resources:

Education and Accountability is More Than Test Scores: The Narrowness of the Measures – The plan relies on what we can easily measure, rather than on what is important. By requiring that test scores in two subjects and graduation rates be given preferential weight, we discourage schools from supporting truly broad opportunities to learn and the skills necessary for a healthy society…. While we appreciate your nod toward the humanities, these words ring hollow when faced with an underfunded system which punishes based on basic skills test scores. Unless our programs are adequately supported, they will neither close the opportunity gap nor build a better society or a stronger nation.

Summative Labels/Ranking Schools by a Single Score – ESSA requires states to inform the public on the status of education – which has seen more than a century of state practice in our town reports. But the proposed federal rules propose combining all measures into a single score. The result is an invalid measure with a false precision claiming to be transparent….More dangerously, with this single measure being so highly test-based, the interaction of test scores with background factors systematically and invalidly penalizes the disadvantaged. The result is that our neediest children are stigmatized through negative labelswhile we deny them the essential resources.

Lock-Stepping/Lack of flexibility– The statute places undue emphasis on students graduating on time. And, ESSA still requires all students to take the grade-level tests. Any parent of two or more children knows that children are not inter-changeable. Some students need more time, greater support and more resources to reach the same goal.

Disaggregation– According to ESSA, test scores must be disaggregated by schools by demographic groups. This is often referred to as “shining a light” on a problem. It is pointless, even harmful, if this illumination is not accompanied by adequate resources and programs to resolve the inequities. The federal government has never matched their requirements with the money. It is time to quit blaming the victims of our neglect.

The logic of ESSA is the same as NCLB. It is to identify “low performing schools.” Its operating theory is pressuring schools in the belief that the fear of punishment will improve student learning. It assumes poor achievement is a function of poor will. If we learned anything from NCLB, it is that that system does not work. It did not narrow gaps and did not lead to meaningful improvements in learning. If ESSA is similarly restrictive, we can expect no better… We are disturbed that the federal government continues to underfund its commitment to our most vulnerable children, who are disproportionately served by public schools…We take note of the $1.3 billion budget cut approved by the House Appropriations Committee. While you have recently called for a broader “well-rounded” education, you suggest that these initiatives be paid for out of the funds that were just slashed. The federal government is ill- credentialed to call on more from states while providing less.

The Vermont State Board of Education feels it is time we commit to attacking the underlying challenges of poverty, despair, addiction and inequity that undermine school performance, rather than blaming the schools that strive to overcome the very manifestations of our greater social troubles. In the rules and the implementation of ESSA, we urge the federal government to both step-back from over-reach and narrowness; and step-up to a new re-framing, broadening and advancing of the promises of what we can achieve for the children and for the nation.

It is heartening to see one State Board standing up to the federal government’s approaches that penalize children born into poverty, demonize hard-working teachers and administrators, and slash funding needed to improve public schools. Read the letter… it’s thoughtful, measured, and forceful.



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