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Education committee lawmakers unhappy with ESSA plan

Jamie Martines
| Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, 5:15 p.m.

The chairmen of the state Senate and House education committees called the state's new plan for education a "step backwards for this Commonwealth" in a joint statement released Tuesday.

Under the Every Student Succeed Act (ESSA), which replaced No Child Left Behind as the federal education law in 2015, all states were required to revamp guidelines for monitoring academic achievement, graduation rates and English learner proficiency. Those plans were due to the federal government on Monday. The plan is necessary to receive federal education funds.

Both Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair, and Rep. Dave Hickernell, R-Lancaster/Dauphin, submitted feedback during the 30-day public comment period prior to submission to the U.S. Department of Education. Upon reviewing the final version of the plan, released Monday, both Eichelberger and Hickernell felt that the Department of Education "failed to seriously consider and incorporate their suggestions into the plan," according to the statement.

"Given that the General Assembly has the ultimate state constitutional responsibility to oversee our education system, the failure to include any of our recommendations is extremely disappointing." Eichelberger said. "Unfortunately, the plan kicks the can down the road, and appears to benefit the education establishment and its consultants more than the children of Pennsylvania."

Eichelberger and Hickernell plan to notify U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos of these concerns and will seek to "open dialogue" about their recommendations during the federal approval process.

Much of their criticism stems from a lack of detail in the plan related to measuring students' academic performance, teacher quality and overall school performance.

Their feedback on the proposed plan also included criticism of the Future Ready PA Index, a new school report card that would not include a numerical or letter grade summarizing school performance.

"Moving toward a dashboard model and away from a summative score, as suggested under the Plan, is a step backward for transparency, will impede stakeholders and the general public from making comparison among schools and limits the extent to which individuals will be able to meaningfully differentiate among schools," the document outlining the lawmakers' feedback said.

The state Department of Education received more than 400 comments during the 30-day public comment period prior to submitting the final plan. Those comments will be posted on the department's website, according to a statement from the department released Monday.

The comments were not available as of Tuesday afternoon.

Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-Chester, Democratic chair of the Senate education committee, agreed with Eichelberger and Hickernell. Dinniman said that the plan "represents yet another missed opportunity for the Commonwealth to turn a corner on education."

"Unfortunately, what the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) submitted instead is more of the same – schools that test and government that spends," Dinniman said in a statement. "Rather than examining what works and what doesn't, the department took the bureaucratic approach – either glossing over or outright ignoring the key issues impacting our schools, students and teachers."

Dinniman questioned why the plan does not end what he calls the "problematic" and "controversial" Keystone Exams. Like Eichelberger and Hickernell, Dinniman also voiced concerns about whether the state Department of Education took public comments into consideration.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at jmartines@tribweb.com, 724-850-2867 or on Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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