Little Eddie Gears up for a Busy Weekend of Studying

It’s been another pretty slow week in Colorado education news, but that’s okay with me. Friday is upon us once again, and I’ve got a lot to think about and accomplish before I even begin to think about fun, sun, and trips to the pool this weekend. The biggest thing on my to-do list is to help my policy friend Ross Izard prepare for the first meeting of the Every Student Succeeds Act Hub Committee on Monday afternoon.

Ross was appointed to the committee last month, and he has been reading and gathering feedback since the letter came through. He’s reviewed ESSA before, but he has buckled down during the last couple weeks and reviewed the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed regulations and a whole bunch of other stuff ranging from commentaries to summaries to charts. A lot of trees have died at the hands of the Independence Institute’s printer over the course of the last week. Fortunately, their deaths were not in vain; Ross definitely has some ideas about how to move forward, though I can’t share those quite yet.

He has also discovered that ESSA is littered with potential landmines and caveats that may lead to some very interesting conversations as the process of drafting a new state education plan gets underway. One example is language surrounding “out-of-field teachers,” which term is not defined by the law or the proposed regulations and could, if improperly construed, make a big difference for some charter schools.

Come to think of it, I predicted the presence of such gems way back when ESSA first passed. As I wrote back then:

There are a lot of good nuggets that have already been uncovered, and I think it will ultimately be hard to argue that the law is anything other than a shift—though maybe not a tectonic shift—in the right direction. But, like an Easter egg hunt that includes a few landmines for added excitement, there will also be surprises buried in the ESSA that will need to be dealt with regardless of whether those surprises were intended or unintended. There’s no doubt in my mind that there are some chunks of coal buried in this particular Christmas stocking.

I’d like to chalk up my apparent prescience to a brilliant intellect, but my prediction was actually a pretty safe one. Every law has its nuances (good and bad), and federal education laws spanning into the hundreds of pages are particularly infamous for being laced with both intentional and unintentional complications or surprises. It’ll be the responsibility of those working on the law’s implementation to sort through all those little—no small task given the fact that some members of the Hub Committee aren’t exactly best friends.

The Colorado General Assembly is also playing its part in crafting a new state plan under ESSA. A bipartisan committee of lawmakers began their work on ESSA yesterday. It’s not completely clear to me how this legislative committee will work with the Hub Committee at this stage, but I suppose that this is a the-more-the-merrier situation if ever there has been one in education policy.

Interim Education Commissioner Katie Anthes tempered policymakers’ expectations of major changes during their first meeting. I appreciate her effort to bring reason and realism to the conversation—ESSA doesn’t exactly cut states loose to do what they want—but I also strongly suspect that it will do little to alter the fact a good number of folks working on the issue will be working toward a specific agenda. That will no doubt lead to some interesting (and entertaining) conversations, debates, and possibly a few food fights. I think the process may be a lot louder and more contentious than some have predicted. But hey, at least we have a diverse enough set of voices to bring about that kind of healthy debate.

Enjoy your weekend, get some rest, and wish me luck in my weekend studying. Make sure you’re ready for an exciting week in Colorado education when Monday arrives.