Quick! Weigh In On The ESSA Report Cards

Well, you probably already missed one of the (not-well-publicized) meetings on the ESSA school report cards, but no worries:

As you may recall, earlier this year DC got–courtesy of a phonebanking effort by national pro-education reform and charter advocacy group Democrats for Education Reform–a test-heavy school accountability law.

This new DC law, formulated under the national school accountability legislation called ESSA, will, among other things, reduce all our DC public schools to a five-star rating based largely on test scores.

Nonetheless, in a show of involving the DC public in what is unclear the DC public ever actually wanted, the office of our state superintendent of education (OSSE) is now tasking anyone interested in education in DC to hold meetings around the city to determine what these so-called school report cards, called for under the ESSA legislation, would include.

There are also meetings currently scheduled, as shown here, shepherded by the ESSA task force, which was formed at the behest of our state board of education.

And, if you cannot make any of these meetings (or don’t know when they or any others happen), you can give your feedback to OSSE here.

Given the, erm, disseminated nature of this approach to public engagement, it’s not surprising that OSSE’s deadline is not exactly hard and fast.

Here’s Shana Young, chief of staff to Hanseul Kang, the head of OSSE:

“We are conducting outreach on what further content parents and families in the community would like to see on a school report card now through the end of November [2017], and are reporting back on what we have heard in early December, though we will be doing interim reporting on trends we are seeing in October and November as well on our website. We will then enter a second phase regarding the design of the report card, in the first quarter of 2018, in which we will have a variety of ways the public can weigh in on options for design of the report card. The timing of this outreach is based on the need to plan ahead so that schools and our teams can work on the infrastructure, design and collections needed to meet the publication deadline by December 2018.”

Bottom line: OSSE’s deadline for the final report card is more than a year away—but your deadline as a member of the public weighing in on what these report cards contain is a lot sooner. Good luck.

The ESSA law mandates certain metrics must be reported, including test scores, the five-star rating, discipline and safety measures, per pupil expenditures, re-enrollment rates, attendance, teacher data (mainly credentialing), SAT scores, college enrollment, and graduation rates.

The question is what else should be (or not) included on these DC report cards–and where and how (i.e., front page, back page, boldface, 2 point type, etc.).

Given that our DC version of ESSA reduces all our public schools down to a five star rating like a movie, restaurant, or massage, one can take either the minimalist route–just the test scores, ma’am!–or OSSE at its word.

Me, I prefer the latter, so herein are my suggestions for what should be included on those report cards:

The number of janitors, the condition of the school building, the average square foot per pupil, the number of common areas (cafeteria, gym, library), the number and size of areas for specials (art, science labs, computer lab), the quality of the food, and as many details as possible therein.

That is: if a school reports having a library, how many books does it have? How many books per pupil? The average age of the books? And is there a staff member to oversee it?

What is the decibel level of the gym? The cafeteria? The auditorium? Are those areas able to accommodate the entire student body? If not, what does?

If a school has an auditorium, does it have a lighting system? Sound system? Stage? Do any of those things work? What is the auditorium used for: plays? Study hall? Detention? Shelter in place?

What are the meals like: how many calories, the percent of fat and sugar, the freshness, and the desirability (i.e., throwaway rate)?

Is there an art teacher? A computer teacher? Other specials teachers? What percentage of the student body do they teach weekly? Monthly?

How much time on average are students outside per day? Per week?

What school supplies are parents asked to provide annually? What PTA contributions?

How often does the school run out of paper? Books? Supplies?

What is the annual rate for teacher absences? For substitutes? What is the training requirement for substitutes? For teachers?

Oh, and while we’re at it: How clean are the hallways, classrooms, and common areas of the school? What is the janitor/pupil ratio? How often are the bathrooms cleaned? How often has toilet paper run out per month? How often per year has the department of health or other city agency had to intervene for vermin and pest control? How often has school staff contracted with private vermin control operators per year?

And almost forgot: what’s the pay for administrators? And how does that compare percentage-wise to the pay of teachers? And staff? And what’s the staff retention rate: per year and across five years, separated out by administrative and teaching staff?

Yeah.

To be fair, excluding the fact that in DC’s ESSA law there is no growth metric whatsoever for our high schools, and excluding the fact that different schools use different PARCC tests without explicitly being reported (with OSSE’s blessing) and that test scores have been misreported (by OSSE), what’s not to like about a school report card (generated by OSSE)? Report cards seem so, well, sure!

True, schools with lots of kids with low test scores might have to score really, really well on every other metric to get a high-star rating.

But then, isn’t that what this is all about: making it easy to dismiss a whole host of schools that don’t get a 4 or 5 star rating?

In that case, maybe city leaders can just put a little button next to profiles for schools, so parents can simply swipe them out of existence. After all, it’s only what a whole host of our city leaders appear to have already done.

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