The would-be education experts on the Kansas Supreme Court are not the only outside agents meddling in Kansas public education. Equally intrusive are the experts in the federal department of education.
The current irritation involves Kansas’s proposal for complying with the Every Student Succeeds Act, ESSA. This successor to the No Child Left Behind purportedly rewards schools for removing barriers to education and ensuring quality teachers and schools for all children. In September Kansas filed an ambitious plan to comply with ESSA, but its plan was not accepted for lack of specific detail.
Writes Celia Llopis-Jepsen, a reporter for the Kansas News Service, “That surprised the Kansas State Department of Education, which had believed U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ agency was not seeking such point-by-point information.” Llopis-Jepsen presumes that DeVos would be able to rein in her own bureaucracy. In her first year on the job, that was unlikely to happen.
Federal bureaucrats instinctively do what they do best. They nitpick. The letter to Randy Watson, Commissioner of Education, is a textbook case in valueless oversight. The title of the letter’s signer–“Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Delegated the authority to perform the functions and duties of the position of Assistant Secretary, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education”–speaks to how Byzantine the whole enterprise is.
Consider the following assertion from the feds, just one of about 50 such critiques contained in the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary’s letter:
“The ESEA requires that a State describe its methodology for identifying schools in which any subgroup of students, on its own, would lead to identification under ESEA section 1111(c)(4)(D)(i)(I) using the State’s methodology under ESEA section 1111(c)(4)(D). The methodology proposed in KSDE’s plan for identification of schools for additional targeted support does not meet this requirement, as it seems to describe how schools previously identified for comprehensive support and improvement that do not exit that status will become eligible for “Intense Support and Improvement” services.”
By the way, to confuse matters further the feds use the acronym ESEA, Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), a Great Society act ESSA reauthorized.
In addition to the review by federal bureaucrats, the DOE enlisted independent experts to review the Kansas plan. The independent “peer reviewers” come up with gems like the following:
“The State provides evidence to ensure its selection of n-size will not compromise the privacy of individual students and is consistent with ESEA section 1111(i) in information collection and dissemination in a manner that protects privacy and consistent with FERPA. When selecting its minimum n- size in its accountability system KS consulted with statistical and scientific experts to identify appropriate statistical disclosure limitation strategies for protecting student privacy.”
The time invested in creating plans, monitoring plans, and amending plans is in no small part responsible for the steep increases in administrative costs across the board. The plans, no matter how finely calculated, will never succeed because ESSA expects the impossible, namely equal outcomes among disparate groups. Instead of acknowledging the absurdity of the goals, the feds will find experts willing to chastise the educators who failed to achieve goals that were impossible to begin with.
And everyone gets a paycheck regardless.