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Superintendent's SFSF Comments Letter

Letter Head: Jack O'Connell, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, California Department of Education

August 28, 2009

Reference: Docket ID ED-2009-OESE-0007

Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education
U. S. Department of Education
Office of Elementary and Secondary Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW, Room 3E108
Washington, DC 20202-6200

Dear Secretary Duncan:

Subject: State Fiscal Stabilization Fund Comments

Thank you for the opportunity for California to provide comments and recommendations on the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) program requirements as posted on the July 29, 2009, Federal Register notice. The four policy assurance areas outlined in the SFSF notice are comprehensive and provide the opportunity to make significant strides in education reform. As part of our continued efforts to close California’s achievement gaps and improve public education with accountability and transparency, we are committed to developing a strong state plan for the SFSF.

General Comments
  • States and local educational agencies will face great challenges in meeting the education reform goals as set forth in the indicators and descriptors, especially because of the dramatic fiscal situation in many states, including California. We are concerned that the time, cost and effort needed to meet the proposed requirements are underestimated and in certain instances unrealistic. We note the specific instances later in our comments.
  • We appreciate and support the consistency in all released documents; collection needs and indicators are consistent throughout.
  • We interpret vagueness in the guidance to be an indication that the U.S.
  • Department of Education (ED) is willing to accept a wide variety of implementations, which we support.
Proposed Requirements
  1. Assurance Indicators and Descriptors (See Federal Register, pages 37842–37843.)
(a) Achieving equity in teacher distribution
  • We appreciate the use of the EDFacts collection to obtain a majority of the data needed around this assurance area.
  • We interpret the statement regarding state Web posting of local educational agencies (LEAs) descriptions of their teacher evaluation systems to imply that it is not ED’s intent to make the data comparable across LEAs or states. ED should recognize the challenge to states to implement a data collection that collects numbers and percents. (See Referencing Descriptor (a)(1), Indicators (a)(1)–(a)(6).)
  • The purposes of having states “confirm” data that is provided by ED, based on prior reports from states is not clear. ED does not require the state to perform any additional analysis or verification. Referencing indicators with existing information such as (a)(1) and (c)(1).
  • With regard to the data on teacher performance, unless the ED provides a national data model for how states and districts would report this data, we are concerned about the comparability and usefulness of this data. If ED is not expecting the data to be comparable within or across districts and/or states, there is no need for concern. However, if there is a desire for such, to collect data without a standard model for LEAs to map to, the information will have limited utility. (See Referencing Indicators (a)(2)–(a)(4).)
  • The term “easily understandable format” in (a)(4) is not defined. Does this include multiple languages? Is this requirement similar to the NCLB requirement related to providing parental information in language that parents can understand “to the extent practicable.” (See Referencing Indicator (a)(4).)
  • ED should clarify whether information on LEA teacher and principal evaluation is expected to be conducted on a regular or one-time basis. Referencing all (a) indicators and descriptors.
(b) Improving collection and use of data
  • Clarity is needed on the extent to which state educational agencies(SEAs) and Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) need to “communicate”; does that include a back and forth flow of data? Indicator (b)(1), referencing criteria 4 of section 6401(e)(2)(D) of the America COMPETES Act.
  • The meaning of “estimates of individual teacher impact” is vague and broad. ED should provide more guidance if they seek particulars in the plans. The task is on the state but the data system to do this are generally at the district level. (See Referencing Indicator (b)(2).)
  • In California, we have 9,114 schools that have fewer than 50 teachers reported. This may present challenge to ensuring information made available to the public is not personally identifiable.
  • A number of the 12 elements of section 6401 (e)(2)(D) of America COMPETES Act lack specificity: Element 1: We interpret this to mean a de-identified student identifier that is separate from the statewide student identifier. Please confirm whether our understanding is correct. Or, student records transfer from kindergarten through grade twelve (K–12) to postsecondary? Ability to link a student record in K–12 to a postsecondary student record? Element 9: Student level transcript information. Does ED intend this to be the “official” student transcript or would a student record suffice? Element 11: What does “transition successfully” mean? Element 12: We are concerned about the phrase “other information” given its open ended nature. It would be difficult to report on this without more specifics. (See Referencing Indicator (b)(1).)
(c) Standards and assessment
  • We appreciate the use of collections already in existence.
  • The burden estimate provided in the Federal Register for post secondary indicators is based on the time of entering student data at 20 students per hour. However, the burden is not in entering the data but in obtaining the information; we believe the burden will be significantly higher. (See Federal Register, page 37849.)
  • We request clarification on data needed from public versus private IHE; is the number of credits needed only for the public institutions? (See Referencing Indicator (c)(13).)
  • There is concern about states currently in compliance agreements or who have new assessments and standards needing to resubmit to peer review; we urge ED to clarify that new applications are not denied because states are following the old rules. (See Referencing Indicator (c)(1).)
  • We assume ED will be willing to accept a variety of implementations; there may be short and longer term approaches. It is not clear which level (IHE or K–12) would be responsible for doing this. We assume it is the IHE that is responsible. That said, it might be possible for K–12 to develop a match process with the National Student Clearinghouse to identify those students who have enrolled in IHEs. It is not clear whether that approach, however, would satisfy the Indicator (c)(13) unless the National Student Clearinghouse contains student course information. (See Referencing Indicators (c)(12, (c)(13).)
(d) Supporting struggling schools
  • We appreciate that ED proposes using data being pulled from EDFacts and the attempt to integrate the different packages.
  • Urge ED to include broader range of options with their definition of school turnaround actions. The definition of school turnaround seems somewhat arbitrary in its requirement to replace at least 50 percent of staff as part of planned intervention. (See Referencing Indicator (d)(3).)
  • The requirement of academic progress as defined on page 37844 of the Federal Notice is broad and may not take into account schools with highrisk students that may make very great progress relative to the average gains of school in the stat. We also provide this comment in the Proposed Definitions section.
Proposed Definitions (See Federal Register, pages 37844–37845.)

Requirements related to student achievement outcomes: Nowhere in the definition does it say “statewide”. Is that implied in “summative”? (See Federal Register, page 37844.)

The definition of academic progress is broad and may not take into account schools with high-risk students that may make very great progress relative to the average gains of schools in the state. (See Federal Register, page 37844.)

The definition of school turnaround seems somewhat arbitrary in its requirement to replace at least 50 percent of staff as part of planned intervention.

Summary of Costs and Benefits (See Federal Register, pages 37846–37851 and Appendix Federal Register.)
Teacher and Principal Evaluation Systems

We are concerned that ED’s assumption that 60 percent of LEAs have teacher performance data in their central data systems is unrealistic. (See Federal Register, page 37847 far right column, 2nd paragraph mid-way down.) We also believe that ED’s estimate that it should only take an LEA nine (9) hours to provide Indicator (a)(3), which is, “the number and percentage (including numerator and denominator) of each teacher rated at each performance rating or level.” is underestimated.

State Data Systems

The estimated burden for SEAs, which ED estimates at 8 hours, is significantly underestimated. The following provides a revised estimation based on activities. Keep in mind that California has approximately 1,600 local educational agencies and over 9,800 schools.

ONE-TIME, DEVELOPMENTAL AND PLANNING
Activity Estimated Hours

Establish policies that LEAs must follow to ensure graduates are attributed to the appropriate agency. These policies include rules for exiting students.

200

Develop reports that allow LEAs to identify and resolve data issues that would hamper the accuracy of the data.

200

How to handle counting of students in schools that in a district that is part of a unification.

50

How to handle counting of students in a charter school that moves to a different district.

50
How to deal with lost transfers, re-enrolled dropouts 100

TOTAL ONE-TIME ACTIVITIES

600
ANNUAL ACTIVITIES
Activity Estimated Hours

Supporting districts in cleaning up anomalies in student enrollments. Estimated to be 2 percent of all students enrolled. For students in grades seven through twelve.

200
Handling impact of district reorganizations. 30

Audit function. Assumes 10 percent random sample of students in grades seven through twelve in each district?

300
Post graduation rates to Department’s Web site 50
TOTAL ANNUAL ACTIVITIES 580
High School and Postsecondary Success

See comment above regarding underestimating the burden related to information on students enrolling in IHEs.

Supporting Struggling Schools

We believe that the estimate of two hours per LEA to complete data collection on schools in improvement, corrective action, or restructuring that have been turned around, consolidated or closed is underestimated. We also believe the estimate of 16 hours or two days for SEA’s effort to respond to this new data requirement is underestimated.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide these comments. We look forward to our continued partnership with ED.

Sincerely,

JACK O’CONNELL

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