DOEd – The Master of Loopholes?

This article is cross-posted from Missouri Education Watchdog.

The DOEd has just released their draft regulation for the latest round of the Race To The Topgrant competition. Many have noted extensively how they no longer seem to care that they are forbidden by law from developing national standards. Duncan and his representatives have repeatedly stated that they are not doing that. Rather, it is state consortia (which DOEd incentivized the creation of through the first RTTT) who are developing standards (which they require states to adopt to receive second round awards in RTTT).  But it is this latest round of RTTT that is by far the biggest power grab by a federal department who was originally only designed to be a clearing house for education information. In it, DOEd seems to have perfected the technique of loophole optimization by taking on things that are so far afield from public education that no one could say they are in opposition to their original mandate to focus on education delivery.

Applicants for this RTTT award will be Local Educational Agencies (LEAs).  DOEd has drilled down below the states directly into your school board through this version of RTTT. Here are some of the requirements for receiving this latest award.

At least forty percent of participating students across all participating schools (as defined in this document) must be students from low-income families, based on eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch subsidies under the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act, or other poverty measures that LEAs use to make awards under section 1113(a) of the ESEA.

Clearly this round is meant for a very specific type of school district. Only those districts who are in urban areas or extreme rural communities will meet this qualification. However, high poverty, high needs schools must follow very prescriptive rules based upon federal and state guidelines which limits their ability to innovate. This would seem to fly in the face of the grant competition’s goal of inspiring innovation. It does exploit a loophole that then allows the feds to funnel money to urban areas which, coincidentally I guess, tend to vote one way.

The next requirement is where the DOEd seeks direct control of your school board and superintendent.

  • Applicants must demonstrate a track record of commitment to the core education assurance areas (as defined in this document), including, for each LEA included in an application, an assurance signed by the LEA’s authorized legal representative that–

The LEA has, at a minimum, designed and committed to implement no later than the 2014-15 school year–

  1. a teacher evaluation system (as defined in this document);
  2. a principal evaluation system (as defined in this document);
  3. a LEA superintendent evaluation (as defined in this document); and
  4. a LEA school board evaluation (as defined in this document).

An assessment of the LEA school board that both evaluates performance and encourages professional growth. This evaluation system rating should reflect both (1) the feedback of many stakeholders, including but not limited to educators and parents; and (2) student outcomes performance in order to provide a detailed and accurate picture of the board’s performance.

See, now your school board members will be rated and their performance will be tied to student performance. One does not set out to create a rating without the intent to use it as a means to take action. If your district’s students continue to perform poorly on the standardized assessments, something may need to be done about your school board members. Your vote for them will be greatly diminished if not negated.

And nothing can come out of DOEd without the requisite requirement to provide DATA.

The LEA has a robust data system that has, at a minimum,–

  1. An individual teacher identifier with a teacher-student match; and
  2. The ability to match student level P-12 and higher education data.

def. Student Performance Data – information about the academic progress of a single student, such as formative and summative assessment data, coursework, instructor observations, information about student engagement and time on task, and similar information.

Individual districts, not the state, will now supply this information directly to DOEd. If it has the ability to match teachers to students and track students beyond P-12, it is not sanitized for your protection. While the regulation states that such data have, “regulatory protections in place that ensure Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) compliant privacy and information protection,” it still maintains that such data be made accessible and usable by stakeholders. The more broadly this data is disseminated to stakeholders (who are very broadly defined by DOEd) the less control they have over it and the less secure your private information is.

Asking individual school districts to be sophisticated enough to develop the necessary software encryption to protect such information is unrealistic. Most likely they will have to go to a private vendor to purchase an existing software package. Who could be waiting in the wings to provide that little piece of business?

One of the last sections is titled “Competitive Preference Priority–Cradle-to-Career Results, Resource Alignment, and Integrated Services.” The federal government has stated openly that their goal (by giving preference priority to applicants who agree to this) is to be involved in your children’s lives from cradle to career (HHS takes over the grave part.) At this point does this even look like school anymore?

In this section of the draft regulation, they state they will be looking for:

Whether the applicant has formed a coherent and sustainable partnership with public and private organizations, such as public health, after-school, and social service providers; businesses, philanthropies, civic groups, and other community-based organizations; early learning programs; and post-secondary institutions to support the plan described in Absolute Priority 1. The partnership must identify not more than 10 population-level desired results for students in the LEA or consortium of LEAs, which may span from cradle to career, that align with the applicant’s proposal and reform strategy.

Here is your community school.  In addition to providing a basic education for children, your school district will now be evaluated on:

family and community results (e.g., students demonstrate social-emotional competencies, students are healthy, students feel safe at school and in their communities, students demonstrate career readiness skills through internship and summer job opportunities)

This is a gargantuan power grab by the federal government that, sadly, some individual school districts will actually ask them to do. It seems unfathomable that school board members, superintendents and tax payers would want the federal government this involved in the running of their schools, just for the benefit of a few dollars.  Nowhere in the grant application are districts required to show fiscal feasibility of maintaining any program started with RTTT funding. If DOEd isn’t going to ask for this, maybe the taxpayers should, because they will be the ones on the hook for increased “school” (and I now use that word loosely) funding.

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