Education groups say they were shunned by the State Department of Education

Leaders of Idaho’s major education groups are frustrated with the State Department of Education’s process for creating its draft of a school accountability plan. They say they were not included in the draft’s creation and there is not enough time to provide input since the 102-page document is to be presented to the State Board of Education just two weeks after its public unveiling.

Roughly 45 educators attended Tuesday's meeting
A small group attended a meeting Tuesday night for the first public unveiling of a school accountability plan written by the State Department of Education.

“The process is very frustrating,” said Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association, which has nearly 500 members who serve nearly every school district in Idaho.

The draft plan, unveiled Tuesday, is Idaho’s obligation to meet the requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. ESSA, signed into law December 2015, pushes oversight and accountability of public schools away from the federal government and toward the states. Idaho must submit a final compliance plan to the U.S. Department of Education by March 2017.

To garner public input on the draft, the state department will hold five public forums in nine days, take comments online and present an updated version to the State Board of Education on Nov. 15. Board members will have a month to review the draft before taking action on Dec. 13-14.

“I’m terribly concerned about this time frame,” Echeverria said.

Idaho Education Association President Penni Cyr said: “It’s really difficult to provide meaningful input if you don’t have the plan or are not involved in writing the pieces and parts.”

Cyr said she’s concerned because large portions of the draft plan still need to be written and she hasn’t had time to digest what is there. “We’re all scrambling right now.”

The draft plan says 1,200 stakeholders were involved in 44 working group meetings and a list of those stakeholders includes teachers and trustees. Minutes from a summer working group say ISBA and IEA representatives were present but Echeverria and Cyr say that is not true.

“You can’t say the ISBA was involved in any way,” Echeverria said.

Minutes of many other working groups are vague and don’t list names of participants. For example, the complete minutes from an August meeting state: “Present: External Stakeholders. Meeting Summary: Sent email to stakeholders requesting feedback on the draft of the IV-A State Plan.”

ISBA’s incoming president Marg Chipman of Weiser is listed as a contributor to the draft plan, but Chipman said she was never invited to a meeting or asked for her input.

“It was a communication process where invitations went out,” said state department spokesman Jeff Church. “For those who were invited but for whatever reason not included, the invitation is open now.”

The 102-page draft plan was first made available to the public Tuesday afternoon, just hours before a forum orchestrated to gather public input. The attendees at the Blackfoot meeting were shown an overview presentation and then asked to comment on the draft plan. Cyr and about 40 others were at the Blackfoot meeting.

Echeverria said she will not read the 102-page draft plan until this weekend, but after skimming it found at least two items her members would oppose.

The draft plan says if a school or district is failing the state will intervene by recommending to trustees staff changes, or the state will inform the community about the “needs of the district” possibly related to the election of trustees.

“No. We will not support that. No. We had no input on that,” Echeverria said.

The draft plan also says the state could withhold money until “conditions are met.” And in severe circumstances, the state will withhold all federal funding and decide how it would be used to turn around the performance of the school.

“How does a school turn around with less funds? That makes no sense to me,” Echeverria said.

Another section of the draft plan says if a school fails to improve, an “external team of reviewers” will evaluate all teachers and conduct interviews of parents, students and staff to identify “recurring themes” to determine state interventions.

“Our member voices are not being heard and that’s the frustration we’re feeling at the IEA,” Cyr said.

Earlier this year State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra said in a statement that the state’s plan will require work and planning but “most importantly collaboration.”

 The nonpartisan, nonprofit Council of Chief State School Officers has published a guide full of best practices for collaboration and it states: “The goal of ESSA engagement should be for stakeholders to leave feeling heard, informed and aware of how they can stay involved — is that what is happening now?”

Forum schedule (all events run from 6 -8 p.m. local time)

  • Nov. 2: Jerome Joint School District Office, Administrative Conference Room, 125 Fourth Avenue West, Jerome.
  • Nov. 3: King Fine Arts Center Little Theater, adjacent to the Cassia County Joint School District Office, 1 Bobcat Boulevard. Burley.
  • Nov. 7: Moscow Middle School, Room 108, 1410 E. D St., Moscow.
  • Nov. 9: Canyon Springs High School, Caldwell School District, 516 N. 11th Ave., Caldwell.

State’s timeline and deadlines for complying with ESSA

  • November 2016: Public forums (see schedule above) and presentation to the State Board of Education
  • December 2016: The State Board of Education is expected to vote on whether to approve the state’s ESSA plan.
  • February or March 2017: SDE officials will review feedback; incorporate any relevant changes into the state plan and then, potentially, resubmit it to the State Board of Education for final state-level approval.
  • March 2017: Deadline to submit the state plan to the U.S. Department of Education.