Colorado State Board of Education Opens up the ESSA Conversation

I broke out my (heavily used) soap box a couple weeks ago to talk about the importance of having a seat at the education policy grown-ups table. We talked about Hillary Clinton’s promise to guarantee the National Education Association some level of policy influence, as well as some of the questionable stuff that has come out of working groups here in Colorado that are woefully devoid of any semblance of balanced perspectives.

I finished the post by calling for Colorado’s new working committee on the Every Student Succeeds Act to be more inclusive of reform-minded voices, and worried aloud that the deck had already been stacked in favor of the omnipresent education establishment. It looks like I spoke too soon.

More details about the committee and how it works have emerged since my last post on the topic. The process will adopt a “hub-and-spoke” structure, wherein a number of issue-specific technical committees called Spoke Committees will report to a central Hub Committee on various aspects of Colorado’s new state plan in the post-NCLB era. The Hub Committee will oversee the process and issue recommendations to the Colorado State Board of Education on changes related to standards, assessment, accountability, school improvement, and a number of other issues. There’s going to be a lot of work to do, and that work is going to need to be done carefully. We will, after all, be living under ESSA for quite some time. Given the importance of the work this committee will do, I’m sure you understood my concern when it initially appeared that the education establishment would wield a disproportionate amount of influence in the process.

To be clear, I think it is both necessary and proper for groups like CEA, CASE, and CASB to be at the table. They are definitively major stakeholders in public education. My issue is not with their presence so much as it is with the general absence of other points of view during many (most?) such edu-policy discussions. So when a memo outlining the committee in general terms led me to believe that such an imbalance was already starting to take shape, I got a bit nervous. I lamented general antipathy toward “special interest groups” despite the fact that the union and and other establishment-minded organizations easily fit that bill, stressed the importance of including reform advocates, and even threatened to throw meatballs from my dutiful seat at the kid’s table.

As it turns out, no meatballs will need to be thrown. Well, not from the kids’ table, anyway.

My Independence Institute friend Ross Izard received notification this week that he will be serving on the ESSA Hub Committee. See below for the full letter.

Ross’s appointment is a big deal because it means that I am going to get to go on some pretty cool policy field trips in the near future. More importantly, it’s a breath of fresh air that signifies the State Board’s desire to open up this critical conversation to groups across the philosophical spectrum. Though it is firmly on the side of reform in almost all instances, the Independence Institute Education Policy Center brings a different perspective to the education policy conversation than many other advocacy groups. Namely, it seeks to bolster opportunity for all students by expanding educational choice in every possible way, pressing for increased transparency, and maintaining real accountability to taxpayers and parents in a roughly $9.5 billion government enterprise. I’d imagine we’ll see Ross bring those same priorities to the table when it comes to ESSA.

Ross and the other members of the Hub Committee (I’m not yet sure who else will be joining him) will no doubt have to wrangle with some tough questions and balance competing perspectives. It won’t be easy work, but I must say that I am thrilled that there will be competing perspectives to balance in the first place. Good policy results from tough conversations and debate. My prediction is that there will be plenty of both in the months to come. I commend the State Board for making that happen.

Stay tuned!