Oregon Considers Mandatory Mental Health Exams for Students

Photo credit: Shaun DD (CC-By-SA 3.0

The Oregon Legislature is considering a bill that would require middle school and high school students to undergo an annual mental health exam.

The Salem Statesman Journal reports:

The pervasiveness of mental health issues and child suicide rates leads Oregon to rank as the worst state in the country for the prevalence of mental illness.

And the state’s lack of child psychiatrists and school counselors leaves families waiting for months to get help.

Locally, multiple teen suicides have affected both Salem-Keizer Public Schools and the Jefferson School District this year.

Oregon lawmakers want to help with a proposed bill requiring every student in grades 6 through 12 to undergo a mental health wellness check once every school year.

Under Legislative Concept 2890, every school district and public charter school in the state would be required to participate.

The bill does not state who will administer the exam other than a “trained professional.” I think we can assume that will not be a child psychiatrist or school counselor since we were told part of the problem is that the state lacks this. 

Also, lacking in the bill is how much this will cost or who will pay

Also, the bill does not state what is information is gathered, how it will be used, or what screening tool will be used.

There is no mention of any kind of parental opt-out. 

What could possibly go wrong? 

Lesko Introduces Make Education Local Act

Congresswoman Debbie Lesko (R-Arizona) Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

Congresswoman Debbie Lesko (R-Arizona)
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

Congresswoman Debbie Lesko (R-Arizona) introduced the Make Education Local Act of 2018 (H.R. 6259) that, in comparison to the Every Student Succeeds Act, would provide states much more flexibility.

If you’ve read my articles here you understand that the term flexibility as it relates to the Every Student Succeeds Act is something I scoff at.

Lesko’s bill, outside of Congressman Thomas Massie’s (R-Kentucky) bill to shutter the U.S. Department of Education, seems to be one that offers the most progress toward reducing (albeit not eliminating) federal control in K-12 education.

The bill would allow individual states to submit their own education plans, known as a State Management Decision, to the U.S. Secretary of Education. After approval by the U.S. Department of Education, all federal funding programs would roll into one pot of money for the state to implement their individualized education plan.

I bristle at the phrase “approval,” but reading the text of the bill I relaxed a little:

The Secretary shall review the State management decision received from the State Designated Officer not more than 60 days after the date of receipt of such decision, and shall approve, with respect to permitting the State to receive the funds described in subsection (a), such State management decision unless the State management decision fails to meet the requirements under subsection (c). (emphasis mine)

Here are the requirements under subsection (c). Each State management decision shall contain:

  1. a list of eligible programs that are subject to the State management decision;
  2. an assurance that the submission of the State management decision has been authorized by the State Authorizing Officials, specifying the identity of the State Designated Officer;
  3. the duration of the State management decision;
  4. an assurance that the State will use fiscal control and fund accounting procedures;
  5. an assurance that the State will meet the requirements of applicable Federal civil rights laws in carrying out the State management decision and in consolidating and using the funds under the State management decision;
  6. an assurance that in implementing the State management decision the State will seek to advance educational opportunities for the disadvantaged;
  7. a description of the plan for maintaining direct accountability to parents and other citizens of the State;
  8. an assurance that in implementing the State management decision, the State will seek to use Federal funds to supplement, rather than supplant, State education funding; and
  9. a description of how the State will address persistently failing public schools.

So here’s a summary of what this bill offers:

  • Allows states to submit a State Management Decision to the Secretary of Education that is valid for between 5 and 10 years.
  • A State Management Decision allows a state to be waived from all provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act and allows for that state to consolidate all federal education dollars into one single grant.
  • Protects the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act dollars from being consolidated and provisions of the law from being waived.
  • Increases transparency by requiring a state in their State Management Decision to outline their plan for using the dollars and how they will inform parents of student achievement.
  • Ensures accountability by requiring participating states to publish a yearly report of student performance and a description of how the state used federal funds to improve academic achievement and a yearly report with information for the public regarding other high-quality school options and choices.
  • Gives states the flexibility to financially account and consolidate federal education dollars in any way they choose.

There is private school language in the bill that could cause concern for some, I’m ambivilent.

There is a mandate for a state to report on other options within the state in their “report for student progress. Section 3(c)(2) reads that the report shall include, “a description of other high-quality school options available to parents in the State.”

Section 5 deals with private school participation.

Each State consolidating and using funds pursuant to a State management decision under this Act shall provide for the participation of private school children and teachers in the activities assisted under the State management decision in the same manner as participation is provided to private school children and teachers under section 9501 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 7881).

I don’t think this is a mandate for a state to provide a school choice program because that doesn’t exist under ESEA. Still, there is a reporting mandate, and states are required to provide for private school participation in programs federally-funded under the State managment decision. The devil is in the details, and the bill does not spell it out any further.

One of the primary things I appreciate about Lesko’s bill is that it is pretty straightforward and short, not as short as Massie’s bill, but it will only take a few minutes to read which I encourage you to do. As far as the future of the bill it only has four cosponsors at the moment so it has a pretty big hill to climb.

So again, this bill does not eliminate federal involvement in K-12 education. This would be an incremental step. I want to be clear on that. I also want to be clear that this is not an endorsement of the bill. It has piqued my interest, however.

SC Voters Will Decide Between an Elected or Appointed State School Chief

Molly Spearman could be South Carolina’s last elected State Superintendent of Education. Last week the South Carolina Senate passed H. 3126 that would allow voters to decide whether they want to amend the South Carolina State Constitution to allow the Governor to appoint the State Superintendent of Education instead of electing that position. Voters will decide this in November.

The South Carolina House voted on the resolution 87 to 24 on February 22, 2017, to send it to the Senate. The South Carolina Senate voted in favor of it 38 to 6 on Thursday prior to the legislature’s adjourning Sine Die.

Here’s the text of the resolution:

PROPOSING AN AMENDMENT TO SECTION 7, ARTICLE VI OF THE CONSTITUTION OF SOUTH CAROLINA, 1895, AS AMENDED, RELATING TO THE CONSTITUTIONAL OFFICERS OF THIS STATE, SO AS TO DELETE THE SUPERINTENDENT OF EDUCATION FROM THE LIST OF STATE OFFICERS WHICH THE CONSTITUTION REQUIRES TO BE ELECTED AND PROVIDE THAT THE SUPERINTENDENT OF EDUCATION MUST BE APPOINTED BY THE GOVERNOR, UPON THE ADVICE AND CONSENT OF THE SENATE, TO SERVE AT THE PLEASURE OF THE GOVERNOR BEGINNING IN JANUARY 2023, OR UPON A VACANCY IN THE OFFICE OF THE SUPERINTENDENT OF EDUCATION AFTER THE DATE OF THE RATIFICATION OF THIS AMENDMENT, WHICHEVER OCCURS FIRST, AND TO PROVIDE THAT THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY SHALL PROVIDE BY LAW FOR THE DUTIES, COMPENSATION, AND QUALIFICATIONS FOR THE OFFICE.

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of South Carolina:

SECTION    1.    It is proposed that Section 7, Article VI of the Constitution of this State, as last amended by Act 1 of 2015, is further amended by adding the following new paragraph at the end:

“Beginning in January 2023, or upon a vacancy in the office of Superintendent of Education after the date of the ratification of the provisions of this paragraph, whichever occurs first, the Superintendent of Education must be appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate. The appointed Superintendent of Education shall serve at the pleasure of the Governor. The General Assembly shall provide by law for the duties, compensation, and qualifications for the office.”

SECTION    2.    The proposed amendment in Section 1 must be submitted to the qualified electors at the next general election for representatives. Ballots must be provided at the various voting precincts with the following words printed or written on the ballot:

“Must Section 7, Article VI of the Constitution of this State, relating to state constitutional officers, be amended so as to provide that beginning in January 2023, or upon a vacancy in the office of Superintendent of Education after the date of the ratification of the provisions of this paragraph, whichever occurs first, the Superintendent of Education must be appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate; to provide that the appointed Superintendent of Education shall serve at the pleasure of the Governor; and to require the General Assembly to provide by law for the duties, compensation, and qualifications for the office?

Yes    []No    []Those voting in favor of the question shall deposit a ballot with a check or cross mark in the square after the word ‘Yes’, and those voting against the question shall deposit a ballot with a check or cross mark in the square after the word ‘No’.”

Cindi Ross Scoppe, the associate editor of The State, outlined why she believes this would be a good change:

One reason to make the change is to get us closer to having three co-equal branches of government. Our Legislature divided the executive branch between nine statewide elected offices in order to prevent this. Although the Legislature recently allowed governors to appoint the lieutenant governor and adjutant general, the education superintendent was always the holy grail, because 40 percent of the state budget goes to education.

Forcing voters to decide all of those statewide elections (on top of federal, legislative and local races) also guarantees that most offices won’t get the attention they need. And not only do we know too little about the candidates for these down-ballot races, but any time we spend on them leaves us less time to study the more important races.

There’s a much longer list of reasons we’d be better off with an appointed superintendent — among them, it will force the governor to own education; it will let the governor fire a bad superintendent; it will open the position to a lot of great candidates who aren’t willing to put themselves through an election.

I understand some of the rationale for wanting an appointed state school chief. I certainly understand why the Governor would want to gain more control over the executive branch.

That said, this move favors educracy, not the grassroots. To say that state government is accountable to no one, like Scoppe argued in her piece, is not true they are accountable to voters. While an appointed State School Chief is easier for the Governor to fire, an elected one is easier for voters to fire.

Also, a strong legislature in comparison to the executive branch places a check on the bureaucracy in South Carolina.

If I were a voter in South Carolina I would vote no.

238 Education Data Bills Hit State Capitols in 2018 So Far

Photo credit: Nick Youngson (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Data Quality Campaign (not our ally in the fight against data mining) provided a snapshot of the number of education data bills hitting state capitol buildings near you.

They report there are 238 bills related to education data this year so far, and less than a third (70) have anything to do with protecting student data privacy.

They highlight bills before state legislators this year where they are trying to “make data work for students.”

Addressing inequities and underserved students’ needs

Echoing national conversations about disciplinary disparities and the unique needs of traditionally underserved students, numerous state bills this year target the reporting of data to address education inequities. For example:

  • Tennessee is considering a bill (HB 2651) to establish a commission on the school-to-prison pipeline. The commission would submit a report to the legislature including school discipline data and policy recommendations to implement restorative justice practices.
  • Indiana has a new law (HB 1314) requiring a report on how the state’s homeless students and students in foster care fare in school and how these students could be better supported.

Informing policy decisions and meeting state goals

Nearly 100 bills considered so far in 2018 have focused on how state policymakers themselves can use aggregate data to make policy decisions or meet their state’s education goals. For example:

  • California has introduced a bill (SB 1224) to create a state longitudinal data system (SLDS) with student data from kindergarten enrollment to workforce entry—a system that could help inform education policies across the state.
  • Mississippi considered a bill (HB 405) to use the state’s education data system to better understand the state’s workforce needs.

Empowering the public with more information

Over 60 bills this year would require states to publicly report more, or more useful and accessible, information about their schools. For example:

  • New Jersey is considering a bill (A 2192) to include data on chronic absence and disciplinary suspensions on school report cards.
  • Arizona is considering a bill (SB 1411) to create a new dashboard as part of the state’s school achievement profiles with new data on academic progress and school quality.

Empowering educators and families with student data

In years past, legislators have not frequently used legislation to give educators and parents secure access to their own student’s data. This year is seeing some more legislative activity on this important priority. For example:

  • Louisiana is considering a bill (SB 107) to ensure that teachers receive student-level assessment results in a format that is easy to understand and includes longitudinal student data if possible.
  • Massachusetts is considering a bill (S 40) that would create an electronic data “backpack” program for foster youth. The backpack would contain a student’s education record and would be available to the adults authorized to make decisions for that student.

The best way to “make data work for students” is to not collect it without parental knowledge and consent and to keep it at the local school level with the teachers where it could possibly do some good. The problem is, evidenced by the Louisiana bill, when data gets collected it heads to the state (and the feds and who knows what other third parties) who don’t teach the kids and have no business having that data.

NY Assembly Passes Bill to Decouple Assessments from Teacher Evaluations

Last week, I wrote that the New York Assembly introduced a bill that would decouple assessments from teacher evaluations. This week, they passed that bill 131 to 1.

WAMC reports:

Opposition to the former Common Core standards and the associated tests became a rare bipartisan issue at the Capitol. Assemblyman Steve Otis, a Democrat from Westchester, voted for the repeal.

“We heard from school superintendents, school board members, teachers, parents, the same message all united,” Otis said. “They didn’t think the state tests were helping them teach kids.”

Assemblyman Fred Thiele, a Republican from Long Island, says the change would restore local control to school districts.

It now heads to the Senate where there is momentum to pass this bill.

In the Senate, Senator Jim Tedisco, a former teacher, is sponsoring a similar measure in the state Senate. Tedisco, a Republican from Schenectady, says the list of supporters has grown to 38 senators, but there is still some opposition to putting the bill on the floor for a vote.

“We’re going to work hard to, no pun intended, educate my colleagues on the importance of not using a standardized test as the Holy Grail for evaluating kids,” Tedisco said. “Or by extension evaluating teachers.”

I wrote last week:

Common Core is still present in New York State regardless of the recent revisions of their state standards. In 2016, The New York State Education Department adjusted their statewide assessment to encourage “opt-ins” as the state has seen the most student opt-outs of any in the nation and that did not change in 2016 as some deemed the 3rd-grade assessment to be age-inappropriate.

This bill will, at the very least, ensure teachers that they won’t have to teach to the test in order to help their standing with evaluations. Also, it is true that some students just don’t test well. That does not mean they are not learning. I also hope that it will reduce potential pressure parents may receive from their local school districts if they decide to opt their student out.

My thoughts toward this bill haven’t changed. This is a good development, but we’ll have to wait and see how much impact it will make in the classroom. If lawmakers think this will curb parental efforts to opt-out of assessments they will probably be disappointed.

As I also said last week, the New York Legislature needs to pass a bill affirming assessment opt-out.

NY Assembly Introduces Bill to Bar Using Assessment Scores on Teacher Evaluations

Photo Credit: Jim Bowen (CC-By-2.0)

A bill was introduced Thursday in the New York Assembly that would bar schools from using standardized assessment scores on teacher evaluations.

The New York Post reports:

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie introduce the bill late Thursday and Cuomo’s office released a statement indicating the governor was on board.

“We have been working the Legislature and education community for months to address this issue and would like to reach a resolution this session‎,” said Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi.

The announcement came hours after Cynthia Nixon, Cuomo’s Democrtic primary opponent, called for a repeal of the evaluation system.

Eliminating the mandate would be a victory for the teachers’ union, which has long opposed the use of state English and math exams for grades 3 to 8 exams to rate teachers.

“It has become increasingly clear that standardized tests do not fully account for the diversity of our student populations,” said Speaker Carl Heastie.

Read the rest.

Common Core is still present in New York State regardless of the recent revisions of their state standards. In 2016, The New York State Education Department adjusted their statewide assessment to encourage “opt-ins” as the state has seen the most student opt-outs of any in the nation and that did not change in 2016 as some deemed the 3rd-grade assessment to be age-inappropriate.

This bill will, at the very least, ensure teachers that they won’t have to teach to the test in order to help their standing with evaluations. Also, it is true that some students just don’t test well. That does not mean they are not learning. I also hope that it will reduce potential pressure parents may receive from their local school districts if they decide to opt their student out.

We are still waiting for a bill from the New York Legislature that affirms a parent’s right to do just that.

Will Indiana Adopt Federalized School Discipline Plans?

Photo Credit: Drew Tarvin (CC-By-2.0)

In light of the failures of Broward County Public Schools administrators to report the Florida shooter to law enforcement, the recent passage of legislation that would allow the same thing to happen in Indiana has caught parents by surprise. It’s unclear whether Governor Holcomb will sign the bill, but parents and teachers are hoping that he will recognize the potential threats it presents to school safety.

HB 1421 provides that the state department of education “must” have a model discipline plan which will (1) reduce out-of-school suspension and disproportionality in discipline and expulsion; (2) limit referrals to law enforcement and arrests on school property to cases in which referral or arrest is necessary to protect the health and safety of students or school employees.

This language may seem harmless, but a similar discipline policy prohibited Broward County Public Schools from arresting the shooter for a long list of prior offenses. The discipline policy in question limits the involvement of law enforcement to student offenses that pose a serious threat to the school or students. A raft of misdemeanor offenses must be handled by the school, such as fights, theft, vandalism, criminal mischief, harassment, drug possession, and threats, to name just a few. Only after a fifth offense during a school year would a student be suspended, expelled, or referred to law enforcement.

It’s likely that adoption of such policies by BCPS and the Indiana state legislature was motivated by federal guidance issued in 2014 by the United States Department of Education (USED). The guidance, which is still in effect, requires schools to reduce the number of students receiving exclusionary punishments (sent to the principal’s office, suspended, expelled, or arrested). According to USED, exclusionary discipline is ineffective at improving student behavior, creates the potential for negative educational outcomes, and contributes to the “school to prison pipeline.”

The Florida shooting has provoked numerous calls to reverse this guidance. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) asked Secretary of Education Betsy Devos to do so, stating that “disturbing reports have indicated that federal guidance may have contributed to systemic failures to report Nikolas Cruz’s dangerous behaviors to local law enforcement.” So far, Devos hasn’t indicated a willingness to take action.

According to analysis from Manhattan Institute researcher Max Eden, Broward County isn’t the only area to have suffered under these discipline policies:

In New York City, a majority of students at half of schools serving a high share of minority students said they saw more fights and that their peers were less respectful [since non-exclusionary policies were implemented] In Chicago, peer respect deteriorated and teachers reported more disruptive behavior. In St. Paul, the district attorney declared school violence a “public-health crisis.” In Syracuse, the district attorney ordered a restoration of discipline after violence surged and a teacher was stabbed. In East Baton Rouge, 60 percent of teachers say they’ve experienced an increase in violence or threats, and 41 percent say they don’t feel safe in school.

Supporters of these discipline policies deny that they have failed in these schools. They cite statistics showing that the number of suspensions, expulsions, and school-arrests have declined since implementation. But as Eden points out, not issuing these punishments for student offenses doesn’t mean the offenses aren’t occurring. Moreover, a student must commit the same offense (including misdemeanors, such as assault) four or five times before the student can be suspended.

Removing the threat of expulsion or arrest doesn’t make students less likely to break the rules. On the contrary — it emboldens offenders, and students and teachers feel less secure. It’s remarkable this obvious fact has been lost on Indiana legislators.

The superintendent of the high school involved in the Parkland, Florida shooting, Robert Runcie, has claimed that policies he implemented to limit the use of law enforcement referrals (as HB 1421 does) resulted in the schools’ becoming safer. According to school surveys, however, the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas had a different perception; the percent of students who agreed that the school provided a safe environment fell from 66% in 2009-2010 to 38% in 2014-2015.

Considering the evidence showing these discipline policies make schools less safe and even dangerous, why would Indiana legislators even consider adopting HB 1421? Do they fear the loss of federal funding if they don’t revise state law to accommodate these policies? If so, they have short memories. Parents are still feeling the burn after the state adopted Common Core for the same reason. If state legislators believe their constituencies will support them in sacrificing their children’s safety in exchange for compliance with federal intimidation, they are sadly mistaken.

What Is So Great About Social-Emotional Learning?

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) seems to be the rage in education these days. It sounds so great SEL easily seems to attract supporters and promoters, including legislators. Maybe it makes them feel good. Use your search engine and see what comes up when you search for “social-emotional learning.” Check things out for yourself. Dig into some of the hits that come up and see if there is any big money behind SEL. While I haven’t dug into the deep history of the SEL movement, as with many other ed reform issues, I wonder if this push has come from widespread parental request or from big money folks. Or have the parents been told to want this? Which comes first, feeling good about yourself so you can accomplish something worthwhile or accomplishing something worthwhile so you have something to feel good about? Which is it, the chicken or the egg?

I recently read an article from ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine titled Accounting for the Whole Child. This article is very much promoting SEL and casts it, and some questionable practices, in a very favorable light. Here are two quotes that stuck out to me:

A growing number of districts and networks of schools are now administering social-emotional skill assessments, empowering educators to make informed decisions about how best to help students develop these capabilities.

A growing number of schools are making authentic, sustained efforts to collect data on students’ social-emotional skills.

Do you see any problem with this? ASCD and Educational Leadership apparently don’t. It would appear they fully support administering SEL assessments and collecting data on students’ social-emotional skills. This is sensitive and personal non-cognitive data being collected. No expression of concern for student privacy with regard to the collection of this data. Is there any reason to have concern about student privacy, either now or in the student’s future as a result of this data collection?

In case you aren’t aware of concerns about SEL that some people have, I want to provide you with a list before continuing on with this article.

Social Emotional Learning

  • Social emotional learning (SEL) standards, benchmarks, learning indicators, programs, and assessments address subjective non-cognitive factors.
  • Subjective non-cognitive factors addressed in SEL programs may include attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes, beliefs, feelings, emotions, mindsets, metacognitive learning skills, motivation, grit, self-regulation, tenacity, perseverance, resilience, and intrapersonal resources even though programs may use different terminology.
  • The federal government does not have the constitutional authority to promote or develop social emotional standards, benchmarks, learning indicators, programs or assessments.
  • Promoting and implementing formal SEL program standards, benchmarks, learning indicators and assessments will depersonalize the informal education good teachers have always provided.
  • Teachers implementing SEL standards, benchmarks, learning indicators, programs, and assessments may end up taking on the role of mental health therapists for which they are not professionally trained. SEL programs should require the onsite supervision of adequately trained professional psychologists/psychotherapists.
  • Social and emotional learning programs take time away from academic knowledge and fundamental skills instruction.
  • SEL programs may promote and establish thoughts, values, beliefs, and attitudes not reflective of those held by parents and infringe upon parental rights to direct the upbringing and education of their children.
  • Informed active written parental consent should be required prior to any student participating in any social emotional learning program or assessment through the school system.
  • Sensitive personally identifiable non-cognitive data will be collected on individuals through SEL programs.
  • The collection and use of subjective non-cognitive individual student SEL data may result in improper labeling of students. This data will follow individuals throughout their lifetime with the potential for unintended use resulting in negative consequences.
  • Concerns have been expressed that SEL programs and collected data may potentially be misused with a captive and vulnerable audience for indoctrination, social and emotional engineering, to influence compliance, and to predict future behavior.

This list of bullet points can be downloaded as a one-page pdf document by clicking here.

On Jan. 23, 2017, HB 1518 Improving student achievement by promoting social-emotional learning throughout the calendar year was introduced to the Washington state legislature. The Brief Summary of Substitute Bill in the House Bill Report HB 1518 says:

  • Requires that the Department of Early Learning contract for up to an additional 600 summer Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program slots at certain priority school buildings.
  • Directs the Superintendent of Public Instruction to convene a work group to build upon the social emotional learning (SEL) benchmarks developed in 2016, and provides a list of members and duties for the work group.
  • Establishes a competitive grant program to increase the number of summer learning programs that combine academics and SEL, and specifies application criteria and reporting requirements for the program.

In addition, the bill requires a report be submitted in 2019 to the governor the legislative education committees “that describes how many summer early childhood education and assistance program slots were funded, participant’s school readiness outcomes compared to children that did not receive the summer school programming, lessons learned in combining academics and social emotional learning in summer early childhood education and assistance programs, and lessons learned in funding meal programs during the summer using reimbursements from the United States department of agriculture or other nonstate sources; and that includes recommendations for continuing, modifying, or expiring the program.” (Emphasis mine)

It seems like data would be collected on an experimental group and a control group. Kinda sorta sounds like an experiment would be conducted without saying it is an experiment. Maybe it is a non-experiment experiment. There is no mention of this being submitted to an institutional review board as research involving human subjects. Does HB 1518 call for experimental research on non-cognitive skills to be conducted on low-income four and five-year-olds in Washington State without adequate informed parental consent? Boy howdy, this is something that sure seems to sound good to a lot of folks, especially the 24 state representatives that sponsored the bill.

This bill also calls for the formation of a Social-Emotional Indicators Workgroup to continue building on the work of the Social Emotional Learning Benchmarks Workgroup that produced a report called Addressing Social Emotional Learning in Washington’s K-12 Public Schools. This report also tells us that in 2016, Washington state was chosen as one of eight states to participate in the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning’s (CASEL) Collaborative States Initiative (CSI). See page 8 of the report for some brief info about the CSI. Three of the eight CSI states dropped out within a few months of their selection. Washington was not one of those three states.

Washington’s Social Emotional Benchmarks Workgroup developed SEL standards and benchmarks. The Indicators Workgroup is to develop indicators for the benchmarks. HB 1518 did not pass out the house committee and has been reintroduced for this session. As of this writing, it has not passed out of the house committee and may be dead after today. That this bill hasn’t passed has not stopped things from happening that it requires to start. ESSB 5883 did pass in 2017 and appropriated funds for a workgroup to be established to develop SEL indicators for the already developed benchmarks. A Social Emotional Learning Indicators Workgroup has been formed and hard at work since September 2017 developing SEL indicators by grade band for each benchmark. It may, or may not be, a comfort to know that a Bill & Melinda Gates representative has a seat in this workgroup. Hmmm, I wonder if this workgroup will be influenced to use SEL indicators to stack-rank public school students similar to one of Microsoft’s employee evaluation systems.  We could use that as an example of a real-world application in the classroom.

The indicators no doubt will be used to assess student SEL skills. That means data collection. Collected data is going to be stored somewhere, no doubt in an electronic database. Who will have access to the SEL assessment data and anecdotal notes regarding an individual student’s SEL? How long will such data be kept? Where will it be kept? What kind of assurances are there the data will be secure? Should parents be informed and required to give permission for such personal data to be collected about their child?  So many questions.  I wonder if the indicator workgroup members will give any consideration to such questions.  The authors of the Education Leadership article gave no indication of concern for such questions.

With all that has been said here, you really should look at Washington’s SEL standards and benchmarks. Initially, they may look great to you. As you look at them, consider whether you would like your child to be formally assessed on the benchmarks using indicators under development with records that may follow them into adulthood.

The above standards can be found on page three of Washington’s Social Emotional Learning Benchmark Workgroup’s report, Addressing Social Emotional Learning in Washington’s K-12 Public Schools.

What will an SEL report card look like? What will the written comments look like for a student? What would they look like for you? I wonder if written comments on an SEL report card for a legislator might look like this:

Shows awareness of other people’s emotions, perspectives, cultures, language, history, identity, and ability by pretending to listen to and agree with expressed wishes of constituents and then responds “almost exclusively to the views of the wealthiest 10 percent of the population.”

Demonstrates a range of communication skills by responding to constituent questions with extended animated responses and displays of great oratorical skill but unfortunately fails to answer the questions asked. Has developed an excellent skill of answering questions that aren’t asked. Has a great ability to tell constituents one thing, usually what they want to hear, and then doing the opposite.

Demonstrates the ability to work with others to set, monitor, adopt, achieve, and evaluate goals provided the others will help with re-election funds and votes and has views aligned with and supporting those of the elite. Displays a conditional ability to work with others.

I bet you could come up with some great comments on a legislator’s SEL report card.  Can you state those comments in positive terms?  This is SEL after all and we want everyone to feel good.

If you don’t live in Washington state you may think you don’t need to be concerned about any of this. Before skipping off carefree, happy and content, you may want to check to see what similar SEL activity is already taking place in your state. There is a good chance SEL is already embedded in education programs across your state. Is it possible it is embedded in your state’s ESSA plan?

State Departments of Education Should Explain Legal Basis for Mandates on Schools

A bill in the Iowa Senate would require the Iowa Department of Education to identify their statutory or regulatory authority for any request for reports made of school districts. Photo Credit: Ashton B. Crew (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Iowa State Senator Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton), chair of the Iowa Senate Education Committee, told me in an email, “I’ve had several superintendents and principals asking me why they are completing so many reports, especially after we passed school district home rule last year.”

The home rule act, HF 573, passed the Iowa House and Senate last session and was signed into law by former Governor Terry Branstad. It simply reads:

The board of directors of a school district shall operate, control, and supervise all public schools located within its district boundaries and may exercise any broad and implied power, not inconsistent with the laws of the general assembly and administrative rules adopted by state agencies pursuant thereto, related to the operation, control, and supervision of those public schools.

The new law really isn’t a boon for local control, in my opinion, because there is still so much the state dictates to local school districts. This does mean, however, that the Iowa Department of Education can’t keep piling on mandated reports, etc. without specific law or an administrative rule giving them that authority. Which, apparently, they are still doing.

So the question that State Senator Sinclair kept getting from school administrators is eye-opening.

So she offered a bill. ” I figured requiring the DE to cite the legal authority for gathering the information wasn’t too much to ask. And if there is no legal authority, then maybe they won’t require the report,” she told me in an email.

They may still try to require it, but without specific authority, a school could politely ignore the request.

The bill she offered is SSB 3001. It requires the director of the department of education to cite the state or federal statute, rule, or regulation necessitating the inclusion of information in any report which the department requires a school district, area education agency, and accredited nonpublic school, or the officers or employees of such entities to submit.

The bill that was introduced by Sinclair in the Senate Education Committee was assigned to a subcommittee consisting of State Senators Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa), Jeff Elder (R-State Center), and Robert Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids).

I think it’s safe to say this bill should pass, and frankly, it is common sense. State Departments of Education should have to cite the law or regulation whether state or federal that gives them the authority to require anything from a local school district.

Florida House and Senate Bill Allows Schools to Write Own Academic Standards

Florida’s Historic Capitol and Current State Capitol Building in Tallahassee, FL.
Photo Credit: Michael Rivera (CC-By-SA 3.0)

A bill filed in the Florida House and in the Florida Senate allows Florida school districts to write their own standards provided they are equivalent to or better than the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards. Florida’s current standards which the bills would make the minimum baseline were the product of a review and revision of the Common Core State Standards.

Essentially, the revisions made stayed with the 15 percent threshold allowed by the National Governor’s Association and Council of Chief State School Officers. They did put cursive back in their standards, and the Florida State Board of Education in 2013 rejected the Common Core appendices.

Even so, the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards are still functionally Common Core just like every other state we’ve seen pursue the “review and revise” method of addressing them.

State Representative Charlie Stone (R-Ocala) introduced House Bill 825 in the Florida House. The co-introducers are State Representatives Stan McClain (R-Belleview) and George Moraitis, Jr. (R-Fort Lauderdale). The Florida Senate companion bill Senate Bill 966 was introduced by State Senator Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) and it is co-introduced by State Senator Debbie Mayfield (R-Vero Beach).

The bill says a school district’s standards must “(b)e equivalent to or more rigorous than the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards, or courses offered in the district for the International Baccalaureate program. Instructional materials adopted pursuant to these standards must be consistent with school district goals and objectives and the course descriptions established in rule by the State Board of Education.”

It also reads:

Curricular content for all subjects must integrate knowledge-based learning, critical-thinking, and problem-solving, and workforce-literacy skills; communication, reading, and writing skills; mathematics skills; collaboration skills; contextual and applied-learning skills; technology literacy skills; information and media-literacy skills; and the demonstrable, in-depth understanding of the founding values and principles of the United States as required by s. 1003.42

The bill states all standards whether the school adopts the state’s current standards or adopts higher ones they must meet the following requirements:

(a) English Language Arts standards must establish specific curricular content for, at a minimum, reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language which significantly improves student outcomes.

(b) Science standards must establish specific curricular content for, at a minimum, the nature of science, earth and space science, physical science, and life science. Controversial theories and concepts must be taught in a factual, objective, and balanced manner.

(c) Mathematics standards must establish specific curricular content for, at a minimum, algebra, geometry, statistics and probability, number and quantity, functions, and modeling.

(d) Social Studies standards must establish specific curricular content for, at a minimum, geography, United States and world history, government, civics, humanities, and economics, including financial literacy. Financial literacy includes the knowledge, understanding, skills, behaviors, attitudes, and values that will enable a student to make responsible and effective financial decisions on a daily basis. Government and civics content must strictly adhere to the founding values and principles of the United States as required under s. 1003.42. Financial literacy instruction must shall be an integral part of instruction throughout the entire economics course to and include the study of at least Keynesian and Hayekian economic theories, in addition to understanding the basics of information regarding earning income; buying goods and services; saving and financial investing; taxes; the use of credit and credit cards; budgeting and debt management,including student loans and secured loans; banking and financial services; planning for one’s financial future, including higher education and career planning; credit reports and scores; and fraud and identity theft prevention.

(e) Visual and performing arts, physical education, health, and foreign language standards must establish specific curricular content and include distinct grade level expectations for the core content knowledge and skills that a student is expected to have acquired by each individual grade level from kindergarten through grade 5. The standards for grades 6 through 12 may be organized by grade clusters of more than one grade level.

Here are the reporting requirements the bill gives:

The district school superintendent shall annually certify to the department that all instructional materials for core courses used by the district are aligned with all applicable state standards, including those that are equivalent to or more rigorous than the applicable state standards or are aligned with courses offered in the district for the International Baccalaureate program; and have been reviewed, selected, and adopted by the district school board in accordance with the school board hearing and public meeting requirements of this section.

The bill does not explicitly give the state the authority to reject the annual certification or whether or not they can determine whether a school’s standards are in fact higher.  There could be an administrative rule that does, but I don’t see any language indicating that in this bill.

Should the bill pass it would go into effect on July 1, 2018.

Note: I’ve reached out to State Senator Mayfield’s office for background on the bill, as well as, Karen Effrem with the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition to get her thoughts on this bill. I’ll update when I have additional information.

Update: Sue Woltanski, a parent in Florida told me she suspected the bill had to do with Hillsdale College’s Classical Curriculum. She wrote to me in an email, “The economic theories mentioned (the study of at least Keynesian and Hayekian economic theories), I believe, is a priority of Hillsdale College. Our House Speaker (Corcoran) and a few legislators (specifically Rep.. Donalds) are closely tied to Classical Charters, associated with Hillsdale. “

Karen Effrem also got to me. “The purpose is to allow districts to write their own standards with the Common Core as the floor instead of the ceiling. So they use what they want if anything from Common Core, but still, give the appearance of using CC so as not to get the state’s or feds’ undies in a twist about rejecting the standards,” she said in an email.