Wednesday Reading List: A "Nothingburger" on Federal Oversight and Accountability in New York State

The House panel responsible for overseeing the federal department of education held a hearing about ESSA - the big federal education law - yesterday. Andrew Ujifusa of Education Week went so that you didn't have to:

At a House education committee hearing, which DeVos didn't attend, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle Tuesday expressed concern about the consistency of feedback from the U.S. Department of Education to states about ESSA plans. GOP legislators also quizzed state and local education officials about how they were taking advantage of new policy breathing room under the federal education law. Meanwhile, Democrats stressed the importance of federal oversight and how states had to ensure protections for underserved students. Funding was also a very sore spot for Democratic lawmakers and those education officials who testified. Both criticized proposed budget cuts of about $2 billion in President Donald Trump's spending blueprint and in a House education funding bill that would end teacher-training and class-size reduction programs.

So far as I can tell, the early headline from the DeVos regime vis-a-vis federal oversight of school accountability is "more than GOPers had hoped, and somewhat less than Democrats want." Despite the strum-und-drang of DeVos's confirmation process, the K-12 action from the department has been a "nothingburger" thus far.

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Amadou Diallo, writing in The Hechinger Report, thinks that the city of Buffalo may have cracked the code on turning around struggling schools:

In Buffalo, a Rust Belt city still grappling with high poverty and an under-educated population, the results of the Say Yes program have exceeded expectations. Since its launch in 2012, the city’s high school graduation rate has climbed 15 points, to 64 percent, according to New York State education department figures, the highest rate the city has achieved in more than a decade. And black and Latino students have seen the most dramatic improvements, significantly narrowing the graduation gap with their white peers. According to Say Yes, it has awarded roughly 4,000 tuition scholarships, and the number of Buffalo schools classified as “in good standing” by the state’s education department has almost doubled since 2012, from 11 to 20.

The Say Yes program offers free college tuition to any student that graduates from a Buffalo high school. I'm a fan of this story, but I want to offer two caveats. First, the Say Yes program required tens of millions of private dollars, which - from the standpoint of education policymaking - we can file under "nice work if you can get it."

Second, while this piece focuses on the college access component of school improvement, it says very little about the concomitant investments that need to be made in order to ensure college persistence. I'm less impressed with the increase in graduation rates if students are dropping out of college after two or three semesters.

Elsewhere in the Empire State, accountability might get stricter for non-traditional schools. Kate Taylor of The New York Times has the story:

West Brooklyn Community High School is what is known in New York City as a transfer school. The city’s Education Department now runs 51 such schools, serving 13,000 students. The schools are small, and many of them work with community-based organizations to offer counseling, college and career advising, and internships. They have a significantly better track record than other high schools in graduating students who are two or more years behind. But because students often enter transfer schools with few credits, it can take them six, seven or even eight years in total to graduate ... Under the expected regulations, the vast majority of the city’s transfer schools would be designated as “in need of improvement” and could be at risk of being closed.

If you're not familiar with this sort of school, you should read the piece. Most folks would consider me to be an "accountability hawk," but I do not think that transfer schools and so-called "alternative" high schools should be held to the exact same standards as traditional comprehensive high schools. I'm not sure what the exact standards should be, but this is one area where I sympathize with the notion that overwrought accountability systems can take a toll on strong education programming. 

Have a great day!