August 17, 2017
Eagle Forum of Alabama has conducted an extensive review on ESSA and the Consolidated State ESSA Plan (“The Plan”) for Alabama. Eagle Forum of Alabama has reviewed committee reports from the strategic planning committees formed by Superintendent Sentance and the Alabama Ascending Plan and has studied the ESSA Implementation documents and report in addition to the Consolidated State ESSA Plan because all are attached or were referenced as sources for the consolidated draft plan from Superintendent Sentance. Eagle Forum of Alabama diligently monitored, researched and served on implementation committees, sub-committees and attended the parental engagement tours held throughout Alabama. Eagle Forum of Alabama recorded, photographed, and collected official handouts as well as documents from every implementation committee event or meeting held in the state.
As stated by Superintendent Sentance at the State Board of Education meeting on July 11, 2017 when referring to the Consolidated State ESSA Plan for Alabama, “this is a legally binding document for the state of Alabama.” Eagle Forum of Alabama therefore recommends that Alabama utilize the greatest amount of flexibility authorized under the ESSA and revise The Plan as stated below.
- Inaccurate history of ESSA Implementation Committee and lack of student and parental involvement in ESSA implementation process
The Plan incorrectly states that all stakeholders were involved in The Plan’s development. Eagle Forum of Alabama found that parents were not properly valued or included in the process, and that it was extremely difficult for Alabama’s citizens, parents, and students to engage in the ESSA implementation process. In contrast, this process made it easy for state employees, paid lobbyists, agency heads, and state paid administrators to participate. There was also concern about possible violations of the Alabama Sunshine Law in relation to the date and time of announcements for ESSA committee meetings. Page 8 of The Plan claims that “ESSA Implementation committees worked in conjunction with Strategic Planning Committees.” This is also incorrect. There was no meeting or correspondence between these committees or bodies unless it was conducted unofficially without the consent of the general ESSA implementation committee.
The development of The Plan described on page 7 is inaccurate as well, as parents were not involved in the implementation committee or its sub-committees in a meaningful way. Neither were parents involved with the strategic planning committees in a meaningful way. The Plan therefore needs to reflect an accurate record of their lack of involvement or access. Page 14 describes an “expansive process,” in which “Alabama has been diligently engaging stakeholders”. Detailed communications were made by a committee member to the Chair Jeana Ross about the serious problems with the online survey by ESSA committee members. The questionnaire was difficult for parents to find, difficult to access from the website, and the instructions and submitting process was not working properly. While the committee member was told these problems would be addressed, this same problem for parental or public input remained during the implementation process.
- Utilize ESSA’s Opportunity for Flexibility and Local Control
The Plan should take advantage of the flexibility authorized under ESSA and adjust certain provisions accordingly.
- Both the ESSA and the General Education Provisions Act (GEPA) explicitly restrict the role of the federal government in education. While GEPA puts the SEA’s in an oversight role for federal grants and asks them to encourage participation in their programs, for example, Section 438 states that none of its provisions authorize the federal government to exercise any “direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system.” Thus, the law clarifies that states should not allow undue influence by the federal government on its curriculum or published documents.
- In the present version of The Plan eight different oversight programs will be over the LEAs in Alabama. Each of these federal programs require oversight and are overly broad. (page 50-52)
- Florida’s ESSA plan requests waiver from the 95 percent testing mandate cited under ESSA section 1111(c)(4)(E) which is referenced on page 28 of the consolidated plan. Eagle Forum of Alabama recommends Alabama pursue the same waiver request from this mandate, as the federal government has no legal authority for this mandate.
- In addition, ESSA provides some prohibitions on testing mandates from the USDOE and the Secretary of USDOE. Moving control of testing and assessments back to the states is a step towards real education reform and local control. Lastly, the Superintendent and Alabama State Board of Education members have been successful in obtaining more flexibility from the current Secretary of Education by ending the Act Aspire contract.
- As State Board of Education member Jackie Ziegler pointed out during discussion of The Plan at SBOE meeting; Page 14 contains an error that needs to be changed. ACT Aspire will not be Alabama’s interim accountability system. Eagle Forum of Alabama’s research shows that Global Scantron is a Common Core aligned system as well.
- The term “Students” needs to be clearly described as public school students.
Page 9 uses the term “all students,” which is then used throughout the ESSA plan. Given that this document is purportedly “legally binding on the states” as stated by Superintendent Sentance, The Plan needs to avoid overly broad language and, therefore, clarify that the word “student” is in reference to public school students only.
- Inaccurate Description of American government promoted
The United States government has a Representative Republic form of government, not a “democracy”. “Democracy,” however, is what describes our government on page 9 of The Plan. It is of pivotal importance that students understand basic civics starting with a proper understanding of the American system of government as outlined in the United States Constitution. In order for students to understand and exercise their rights as citizens, they must have an accurate and basic knowledge of our government structure, and this error needs to be addressed.
- State Revision Procedure of Academic Standards and Assessment Section
Eagle Forum of Alabama agrees with the implementation committee recommendation that Alabama’s revision process for its academic standards should provide greater feedback to parents and the public who have concerns about the standards review process. The course of study statute addresses the process for changing course of studies. Section 16-35-1 states, “Composition; appointment, qualifications and terms of members. The State Board of Education shall appoint a courses of study committee as set forth below for the purposes and functions as hereinafter provided.” Since new data has emerged following the implementation of Common Core in Alabama, the Plan faces possible compliance issues as Common Core does not provide challenging academic standards. Eagle Forum of Alabama encourages moving Alabama forward with standards that hold a proven academic track record of growth and success.
- NAEP historical revisionism needs to be addressed
There is no acknowledgement of the correlation between Common Core implementation and failing test scores. Before Common Core implementation Alabama’s academic achievements in reading due to the Alabama Reading Initiative were acclaimed nationwide. (https://www.alsde.edu/sec/ari/History/ARI%20History.pdf) At this time, Alabama had risen from near last to 25th in overall grades and scores according to Education Week. But that was before Common Core implementation in 2012 in Math and 2013 in English.
According to 2015 NAEP tests, Alabama’s average math score in both 4th and 8th grade was the lowest of any state. Some Common Core promoters continue to blame Alabama’s poverty rate as the cause of its failing scores, but in doing so, they ignore Alabama’s previous successes under its earlier standards despite these demographics. Indeed, according to PARCA Perspective published in October of 2015, “Between 2013 and 2015, Alabama’s average score declined in both grades. …While Alabama’s higher poverty rate puts it at something of a competitive disadvantage in national comparisons, a deeper look shows it’s not Alabama demographics skewing the results. Name the group-black, white, Hispanic, poverty and non-poverty-all perform worse than their peers in all other states.” The Plan needs to adequately reflect Alabama’s NAEP history.
- Common Core reinforcement and promotional rhetoric
Eagle Forum of Alabama encourages Alabama to seek greater flexibility and independence from the federally controlled Common Core system, which promotes academically inferior standards. Common Core was not created by educators or leaders in Alabama. Therefore, it should not be represented as Alabama led or created. Alabama’s education system must move towards local and state control. Most importantly, Eagle Forum of Alabama wants academically superior standards to replace the failing Common Core standards. On page 16 of the Plan it falsely describes Common Core as “rigorous”. “Access for ELLs [English Language Learners] recently went through a standards setting study in 2016 in order to meet the rigorous language demands of College and Career Readiness Standards.” (pg. 16) As the Superintendent Sentance has stated Common Core standards are not “internationally benchmarked” nor “rigorous” standards. We recommend promoting greater flexibility for local educators and more independence from the USDOE in The Plan. The Plan should therefore remove its “College and Career ready” indicator for accountability, as tying Alabama to this indicator with 10 percent ensures the continued promotion of Common Core which has failed Alabama’s students. (pg. 21-24) The Alabama Ascending Plan also reinforces Common Core on page 6 and the Strategic Planning Committees promote Common Core throughout. Common Core is referenced in the documents as “College and Career Readiness Standards.” (pg. 16 of The Plan) In order to achieve the long term goal outlined in the Plan to “reduce the number of students not proficient in 2030 by 50%” Common Core must be replaced with superior standards.
Conflicts with data-work group recommendations and privacy concerns
The data collection sub-groups official recommendations that were unanimously supported were that no data would be collected beyond what was required by the federal government pursuant to ESSA. That means anything collected indirectly or directly for the Federal Government beyond what ESSA requires is in violation of the data sub-groups official recommendations. Eagle Forum of Alabama supports the data-sub groups unanimous recommendations to protect children from invasive data collection practices that violate student and family privacy.
The Superintendent Association, along with the data work group, recommended only providing what was legally required and nothing further. The number used for the N score is much lower than the number the state should utilize to exercise flexibility. This not only conflicts with suggestions from Alabama’s educational leaders, but it endangers student privacy and Alabama’s sovereignty. De-identified data or aggregated data can be re-identified to contain personally identifiable data. https://techscience.org/a/2015092903/ The Plan proposes a number of 20 as referenced page 13, but ESSA does not require 20 for the N score. Therefore, Eagle Forum of Alabama recommends the number of thirty or higher for the N score.
- Subjective factors that require inaccurate surveys or Personally Identifiable Data (PII) data collection
Data from areas of “student engagement,” “educator engagement,” “school climate and safety,” or any data that could lead to increased psychological profiling in the accountability scheme should not be used or listed in The Plan. Eagle Forum of Alabama recommends ALSDE use academic factors instead.
- Graduation Tracking System
The state sets out as its goal to identify students starting in 3rd grade as at risk of dropping out by using a strategy of the Graduation Tracking System (pg. 33-34). Clarification of this system is needed, as is clarification of its purposes, including its purpose: to “increase grade promotion rates leading to students graduating on time.” This language is unduly vague and without clarification, leaves room for ineffective instruction and undue grade promotion. Significantly tracking systems usually hold high dangers for student privacy and Alabama currently has no comprehensive student privacy protections. Labeling students at an early age can be very detrimental in tracking systems. Lastly, this tracking system contains an inherent flaw by allowing the criteria to be constantly shifted. (pg. 34) Eagle Forum of Alabama advises not including any tracking systems in The Plan.
- Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) Privacy Concerns
School-based counseling and mental health programs should not be expanded at this time, as there is no way to protect this data. FERPA has been critically weakened by USDOE and is outdated as it was passed in 1974. The law is antiquated in addressing the technological changes in society. In Alabama, the Comprehensive Student Privacy Protection Act has not yet been passed. There is no privacy protection for Alabama’s students; therefore, students will be harmed by PBIS. It should not be included in The Plan.
- Diagnostic testing for 5k and mandatory four-year plan
The diagnostic testing requirements listed in the Alabama Ascending Plan for entering kindergarten have not been fully defined, and not enough information has been provided. Any such pre-assessments should only serve to improve the teachers’ approach and shouldn’t be tied to any state or local assessment. In regards to The Plan we recommend that any reference to an assessment aligned to the diagnostic testing be dropped.
The four-year plan in 8th grade described in Alabama Ascending is a continuation of an earlier model from Plan 2020. Mandatory plans of this nature are not voluntary and should be under the control of the parent and, student not included in federal agreements. In addition, states that have moved forward with mandatory four-year plans or mandatory career plans violate parental and students rights. http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/08/us/chicago-high-school-graduation-requirement/index.html Mandatory plans of this nature may face constitutional litigation from families or students as public schools are not constitutional free zones. It is best for the students and families to make these decisions. The school does not need to approve of plans or require one from the student.
- Social and Emotional Learning
- Superintendent Sentance agreed with concerned leaders and parents that social emotional learning is not the role of public educators, but the role of parents. In addition, schools are not properly equipped or trained for this area. Social and emotional learning, however, is still included in The Plan (page 34) as well as the Alabama Ascending Plan. It is the continued position of Eagle Forum of Alabama that it is not the role of ALSDE to analyze or control a child’s development in these areas, and it is not the role of the federal government to force a state to enact such provisions. https://thenationalpulse.com/commentary/attention-parents-social-emotional-learning-state-education-plans/ Removing social emotional learning from the Alabama Ascending plan as well as from The Plan and other attached documents will ensure teachers are not threatened with lawsuits and are not distracted from attending to critical areas of learning and student academic growth. Eagle Forum of Alabama therefore recommends that all references to social and emotional learning or associated programs be removed from both the Alabama Ascending Plan and The Plan. (pg. 18 of AL Ascending)
- In addition, the terms “suicide prevention,” “bullying and harassment,” “crisis prevention and conflict resolution,” “human trafficking,” “child abuse awareness and prevention,” “safety and violence prevention,” and “trauma informed classroom management” used in The Plan are outside of the realm of academic teaching and should be removed. Alabama law already requires educators and administrators in public education to report suspected child abuse and training already is provided in many of these areas. While these are important issues, it is not the role of the public educator to address them. Some of these areas of involvement infringe on the role of the parents in society and involve subjective value judgement of students and could lead to possible discrimination as these terms or programs are defined. The primary role of the educator should be providing quality educational instruction to their public-school students, not addressing social or societal problems.
- Office of School Improvement and Turnaround (OSIT): Eagle Forum of Alabama finds that the creation of a new state agency (OSIT) is promoting the wrong approach to helping schools needing improvement and is a counterproductive use of federal or state funds. On page 24 it describes using staff to intervene by using “Climate, culture, and mental health specialists.” These staff members will be promoting social and emotional health, which co-opts parental rights and will not improve student academic performance. Schools will be provided different levels of “support” from the office depending on how they perform on Alabama’s six selected indicators, including the college and career ready rate for that school. This is an overly broad practice of intervention in schools and promotes the top down approach that has not been effective in the past. OSIT has no record of success and should not be institutionalized by the ESSA plan.
- PBIS Social and Emotional Concerns: The promise to improve “school conditions” for Title 1 schools is listed on page 32-33 of The Plan this includes social and emotional learning agendas. For example, it includes references to “restorative justice practices for school discipline” and training LEAs for positive behavior supports (PBIS) philosophy. This portion of the Plan is somewhat unclear and unduly broad. Given a number of schools receiving Title 1 funds also serve high-achieving populations as well as high-risk populations, it seems The Plan is establishing a state-wide discipline approach that will not fit needs of every school system. Alabama should therefore leave room for local agencies to be trained in the philosophy that best works for its students’ successes.
- While Eagle Forum of Alabama believes strongly in helping children with special needs, PBIS is being used to improperly label children with disabilities or the wrong disabilities. Parental consent should be required for mental health screenings and to avoid any constitutional violations. The data file produced from PBIS is also suspect for its authenticity, educational effectiveness, and collection method. PBIS should not be included in The Plan.
- Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants: Because these programs violate constitutionally protected parental rights and promote invasive psychological practices, Eagle Forum of Alabama objects and recommends their removal. Section 4108 of ESSA describes programs that utilize a broad range of factors that will likely result in subjective or invasive programs: “Early identification of mental health symptoms, drug use, and violence, and appropriate referrals.” Medical treatment and referrals should require parental consent, but there is no legal requirement for consent in this section. Teachers are not trained as medical or psychological professionals to diagnose children or to conduct screenings. This will lead to a host of problems for Alabama’s students in regards to academic development.
- 21st Century Community Learning Centers: Eagle Forum of Alabama’s research and study finds that 21st Century Community Learning Centers have not been an effective use of educational resources. Public education is a part of the community but it is not the community alone. These community learning centers will be primarily used for non-academic purposes and will not be dedicated to Alabama k-12 system. We recommend not including any agreement involving community learning centers.
- Invasive Programs that need to be removed or addressed in Alabama’s ESSA Consolidated Plan
- “Engaged Families and Communities”
Eagle Forum of Alabama, like other leaders in education policy, wants parents and students engaged in their education at every step. However, the “Engaged Families and Communities” programs listed in ESSA and cited on page 21 of the Plan do not promote family engagement. Instead this aspect of ESSA promotes monitoring and collecting personal data on families-especially their interpersonal communications and their communications with the public education system. Data collection on families does not improve parental engagement in the public education system. It should be removed or altered appropriately.
Eagle Forum of Alabama recommends removal of all aspects of the Reach initiative and Reach Advisory Program from The Plan. The student advisory program listed on page 34-35 of the consolidated plan raise problems for parental and student rights. “It is not everyone’s responsibility”; it is students and parents responsibility to direct and control their education. This is a philosophical perspective of education that violates parental rights and promotes collectivism in Alabama’s public education system. More information would need to be provided to parents before this program should be supported.
- Improper Instructions on ESSA Intervention Programs for At-Risk Youth and Homeless Assistance
(722(g)(1)(B) is a non-regulatory guidance section from the USDOE. (pg. 54-59 of The Plan) Eagle Forum of Alabama finds the invasive factors to be used to identify homeless children as concerning. The list cited on pg. 54 includes a broad sweeping list of factors that may indicate homelessness gives broad authority to school based personnel and representatives from other service agencies this list to identify homelessness. This includes many factors such as looking at grooming practices and living at a temporary residence. (pg. 54) “The McKinney Vento Act is designed to address the challenges that homeless children and youths have faced in enrolling, attending, and succeeding in school.” https://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/essa/160240ehcyguidance072716.pdf
- “What if the LEA determines that it is not in the child’s or youth’s best interest to attend the school of origin or school requested by the parent, guardian, or unaccompanied youth?” The section of instructions in this non-regulatory guidance are concerning in relation to parental rights and other legal rights of families and students. While aspects of homelessness student data collection is required by ESSA, Eagle Forum of Alabama suggests removing the identification factors from the plan listed on page 54. We did not find that these exact factors were required. Additionally, the non-regulatory federal guidance from (722(g)(1)(B) engages broad sweeping assumptions about homeless children and their families. Eagle Forum of Alabama encourages a re-examination of the enforcement of this ESSA section to ensure the best treatment of homeless children and their families especially in regards to their legal rights pages 54-59.
- Strategic Planning Committees Bureaucratic Approach to Education
- The Plan on page 8 and as well as the Alabama Ascending Plan include the strategic planning committee reports and the Alabama Ascending Plan which were composed in major sections by these planning committee’s recommendations. Eagle Forum of Alabama finds that the science, math, and reading committees reports will, if implemented, increase bureaucracy by creating new agencies and increase federal control of Alabama education’s system. Most importantly, they fail to address deep problems with Alabama’s current Common Core standards.
- Eagle Forum of Alabama sees that it is not teacher preparation or experience that is the greatest barrier for students but instead the failing system of Common Core especially its impact on testing, professional development, and curriculum. Common Core’s emphasis on informational texts replacing classic literature is not addressed by reading committee. Alabama’s teachers and students can compete with any state but face bureaucratic barriers to focusing on academic achievement. The reading committee supports keeping the “College and Career Readiness Standards” but fails to address Common Core’s impact on teachers and students shown by NAEP scores. (pg. 5 of reading) “The council will develop a statewide literacy plan in collaboration with MS, SC, and TN with support from the Regional Education Lab (REL).” (page 14 of reading) Eagle Forum of Alabama finds this announcement deeply concerning as Alabama needs to control its own teacher preparation not outside organizations or regional councils.
- The science committee report primarily focuses on tools, funding, and a three-dimensional approach to science education. While Eagle Forum of Alabama also supports a hands-on approach to science education in part, teacher’s knowledge in their subject area remains critical. Instead of swinging the pendulum solely towards a three-dimensional approach reducing emphasis on knowledge for students and educators a more balanced approach would be more productive for science education in Alabama. If tools and funding are issues at this time CPLE would not be a productive use of state educational resources. There are already many SEA agencies that are responsible for improving science and math education as well as instruction in Alabama. Including AMSTEC, AMSTI, STEM, and ASIM referenced in the report already acting. (pg. 5-9 of science) Additional agencies and initiatives would be wasteful and increase state bureaucracy in science education. We also already have existing Colleges of Education which teach courses on science education and require teacher preparation that cover these areas of education. These college education departments should not be supplanted by new state agencies.
- Math educators should not be focused on “advocacy” or “empowerment”. (pg. 2 of math) Community development and workforce development should not be the primary focus or main goal of math educators in Alabama. However, an entire subcommittee was set up to focus on these areas. (pg. 2 of math) The main goal of math educators in Alabama should be to provide excellent and high quality math instruction to public school students. The sub-committee “Teacher Education Programs in Higher Education” was almost primarily composed of individuals from higher education instead of current k-12 instructors in Alabama’s public schools.
- Math education summary shows a derogatory perspective on Alabamians and especially parents. “The committee urges the public to help make these recommendations a reality by realizing mathematics cannot be a dinner joke about not mattering in our lives.” (pg. 41 of math) This derogatory approach to parents and students is harmful to engaging parents in education reform. It should not be supported. It is not funny that in its forty-six-page report and 55 recommendations not one includes addressing failed Common Core math standards. Alabama’s parents care deeply for their child’s education especially in math and that is why they support reforms to current standards.
- In addition, the strategic planning committees did not include parents or students in their process. While their report describes their extensive work they only met three times. (pg. 2 of math) Eagle Forum of Alabama recommends reworking the Alabama Ascending Plan and removing input from the strategic planning committee as they worked outside of the ESSA implementation process. In addition, their suggestions were not shared or discussed by the ESSA implementation committee members. Some of the committees suggestions, if implemented, would violate federal law. “This will be accomplished through a nationally aligned rigorous curriculum….”. (pg. 5 of reading) Since a national curriculum has been prohibited by Congress, the promotion of such a system conflicts with ESSA. Eagle Forum of Alabama strongly advises removing any references or recommendations from these three committees or suggestions from any of the planning committees in any attached plans or included documents with The Plan.
Ultimately ESSA is a policy paradox for Alabama as there is some opportunity for flexibility and movement away from the failed federal initiatives. However, there remains extensive and coercive federal overreach under ESSA. Eagle Forum of Alabama supports the ALSDE in movements towards greater flexibility and independence from the federal government. This approach will yield greater positive results for student achievement, involved parents, and inspired educators. The ALSDE has been promoting ESSA on its website and representing it in an improper light. ESSA represents federal overreach into state education systems and should not be promoted to the public by the department. http://www.alsde.edu/dept/essa/Pages/home.aspx
While the department will need to share the applicable laws on its state website, promoting ESSA or legislation that gives the Secretary at the Federal level authority over Alabama’s education system is not the proper role of ALSDE. The ALSDE was not tasked to defend or promote the federal education legislation through parental engagement tours or its ESSA meetings. Instead the requirement of public input meant reaching out for meaningful feedback on ESSA.
Eagle Forum of Alabama supports Superintendent Sentance, Governor Ivey and the State Board of Education in taking the best advantage of ESSA that is possible under the law. Unless the items or areas allowing for flexibility under ESSA are utilized, no greater flexibility will be achieved for Alabama in education. We recommend that the State Board of Education vote down The Plan in its current form until these recommendations have been made since The Plan will be a legally binding document with the federal government. There is no guarantee the USDOE will approve amendments or changes at a later time for Alabama.
Respectfully submitted by Eagle Forum of Alabama and
Alabama ESSA Implementation Committee Members:
Deborah Love, J.D., Executive Director Eagle Forum of Alabama, ESSA Implementation Committee Member, Data Collection and Reporting-Sub Group Committee Member, and Early Learning Sub-Group Committee Member,
Krissie Allen, J.D., M.A.Ed., ESSA Implementation Committee Member, Standards, Assessment and English Learners Sub-Group Committee Member
Margaret Clark, J.D., M.A. Biblical Studies: ESSA Implementation Committee Member, Accountability Sub-Group Committee Member, Titles Programs, Grants and Requirements Sub-Group Committee Member
Shag LaPrade, M.S. Health and PE., Ret. Marine Gunnery Sergeant, School Board Member for Coffee County 2010-2016, ESSA Implementation Committee Member, Data Collection and Reporting-Sub Group Committee Member