In our public school system, we have school districts, with elected officials who are publicly accountable. And we have state education departments, with an elected school superintendent who is publicly accountable. Money that goes to these entities is, at least in theory, transparently spent.
But there’s this other thing we don’t hear too much about. It’s kind of in between the school district and the state. It’s a “local education agency” or LEA. Here are two examples.
The Puget Sound Educational Service District includes King and Pierce Counties, plus Bainbridge Island.
Educational Service District 112 includes counties in southwest Washington.
According to ESD 112, State lawmakers created ESDs in 1969 for these purposes:
- To help districts pool their resources to maximize education dollars and realize cost savings;
- To create equal educational opportunities for all children of Washington, whether they live in districts large or small, rich or poor, urban or rural.
- To bring greater efficiency to school district operations through creative program development and partnerships
So it sounds like they do some pretty awesome work.
But there are some things I wonder about. I checked out ESD 112 because a Seattle Public Schools “Friday Memo” referred to them as a source of information for how to align curriculum to the Common Core, while the district was in the process of creating a “scope and sequence” document. Here’s what the memo said:
It is our goal that whatever math assessments are used in Seattle Public Schools that they provide insight for teachers into how well their students are progressing toward learning the key work of the grade. To define the key work of each grade, the central math program is using guidance from OSPI on the major focus of the grade and guidance from the Common Core State Standards on fluencies at each grade.
Here are the links to these major emphases from OSPI: http://web3.esd112.org/docs/default-source/smerc/ospi-ccss-major-focus-k-2.pdf?sfvrsn=0
Here is a link to a document containing the Common Core “Required Fluencies” per course: http://achievethecore.org/content/upload/Focus%20in%20Math_091013_FINAL.pdf
A team of centrally based math curriculum specialists and math teachers from across the district are working diligently this spring to be sure that the math Scope and Sequence is aligned to these major emphases. The central math team will then align mClass Beacon assessments to the Scope and Sequence and therefore to the key learning for each grade.
I find it really depressing that the school district decided to mandate this “Scope and Sequence” before the assessments were finished and without having the least idea what curriculum would be used, but that’s not what I got curious about.
I got curious about what this “ESD112.org” thing might be and why a school district memo would say it was OSPI (the state department of education). So that’s why I started looking at it.
What I don’t like is that it is a public/private hybrid. I am opposed to school privatization, and by that I don’t mean charter schools, I mean a collection of practices that are intended to remake our schools into an image of the “free market.” There’s a really thorough treatment of what that means and why it’s a problem in the document “Hidden Privatisation in Public Education” from the Education International 5th World Congress, 2007.
I’m not opposed to privatization in a knee-jerk fashion. I really like the thought that the League of Women Voters has put into its position paper on privatization. They suggest:
The League believes that some government provided services could be delivered more efficiently by private entities; however, privatization is not appropriate in all circumstances. . . The decision to privatize a public service should be made after an informed, transparent planning process and thorough analysis of the implications of privatizing service delivery.
They go on to list a number of specific criteria that should be followed. Check it out. Good stuff!
Going back to ESD 112, the reason I would say it’s a public/private hybrid is the amount of money that seems to be coming from private grants. That money always comes with strings. And then there’s the stated philosophy:
In addition to acting as a liaison between local districts and the State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to deliver programs mandated by the state, Washington’s ESDs are public entities, which operate in a highly entrepreneurial fashion. We blend the benevolence of the public sector with the spirit and ingenuity of the private sector.
Not necessarily bad, but worth keeping an eye on.