The confirmation of Betsy DeVos (and surrounding controversies) as U.S. Secretary of Education dominated news headlines and social media over the last few weeks. However, this national headline may be drowning out what’s happening locally, as Delaware continues to develop its state plan for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—a plan that will shape the framework of our school system for years to come.
Here are six things you should know about work underway in Delaware to affect education policy:
1. State-level policy decisions matter since states have autonomy and a great deal of latitude to decide how to implement federal education law, and Delaware is in the process of developing a plan. In December 2015, the education policy landscape shifted. Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act—the largest piece of federal legislating governing federal dollars that support K-12 public education. The new federal law increased local autonomy, giving states more flexibility and control over the use of federal funds. States were immediately charged with developing local state plans for the implementation of the new legislation.
2. Delaware’s planning and stakeholder engagement process began last year. Starting in the summer of 2016, the Delaware Department of Education launched a stakeholder engagement process to solicit input and feedback on Delaware’s state ESSA plan, with the intent to submit to the U.S. Department of Education in the spring of 2017. The process has involved: consultation meetings with selected stakeholder groups, community conversations, public surveys, technical discussion groups, and an ESSA Advisory Committee (created through Executive Order 62).
3. Delaware has a solid foundation to build on. The Rodel Foundation is a member of the Vision Coalition of Delaware, which produced Student Success 2025, a plan developed with input from over 4,000 Delawareans. Student Success 2015 is aligned with the ESSA provisions and requirements. It helped plant a seed about thinking more holistically about measuring student success, and we’ve seen that reflected in both the draft state plan and stakeholder feedback about how we could improve our system accountability and supports.
4. People across the state recognize the opportunity to leverage ESSA to accelerate progress in Delaware schools and are seizing opportunities to engage, and the Delaware Department of Education has incorporated feedback from the Advisory Council and other groups into the latest draft plan. For example:
- Expanded accountability metrics to include more holistic measures of student success like chronic absenteeism, and continuing to elicit additional feedback about which proposed measures should impact accountability versus public reporting
- Decreased the proposed n-count (the minimum number of students required for the purposes of accountability and student privacy) from 30 to 15
- Considering ALL SCHOOLS when identifying Comprehensive Support and Improvement Schools (CSI), not just Title I schools
- Exploring EL growth and attainment targets based on sound research
However, there are still details that need to be worked out. Just last week, The 74 published an article about the concerns of some critics (Read: In Delaware, Critics Worry That ESSA Plans Will Give Low-Performing Schools Too Much Wiggle Room).
5. Rodel has taken action to develop informational resources and partner with business, community, and teacher groups to provide meaningful feedback on draft plans.
- Supporting stakeholder engagement efforts by publishing informational briefs and resources on the meaningful ESSA requirements that Delaware education leaders, parents, and community members should know about and discuss as the state develops is plan to implement the new law.
- Partnering with 24 business and community organizations to collectively publish a letter providing feedback and recommendations on the first draft plan, such as holding districts accountable for the overall portfolio of schools within their management and oversight.
- Elevating teacher voices. Six teacher leaders—members of the Rodel Teacher Council developed recommendations for policymakers and published an opinion letter encouraging fellow teachers to shape state education policy.
6. The deadline for submitting the state plan is April. It’s not too late to weigh-in. Unless new leadership at the federal and state level upset the existing timeline, the Delaware Department of Education will present a draft of the state at the March 16th State Board of Education Meeting, and submit a final draft to the U.S. Department of Education in early April.