Going through waiver withdrawl? You don’t have long to wait for the next batch of approvals. The U.S. Deparrtment of Education will be announcing seven more winners on Friday, Deborah Delisle, the department’s new assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education, told members of the American Association of School Administrators today. That would bring the total of approved applications to a whopping 33. Right now, nine states and the District of Columbia are still waiting for word.
This was one of Delisle’s first public appearances in her new gig. Delisle, who most-recently served as Ohio’s state chief, has had just about every possible education job under the sun, including district superintendent.
Delisle also put her own twist on explaining some of the administration’s signature policies, such as teacher evaluation.
“I don’t believe any teacher or principal walks into their job and says, ‘I’m going to screw up some kid’s life today,’” she joked. But, she added, there are still real achievement gaps that must be dealt with. Teacher evaluation, a big Obama administration priority, isn’t a “silver bullet,” she said. But the right kind of feedback can help educators do their jobs better and improve outcomes for students.
For instance, she remembered looking through a stack of principal and teacher reviews for a district that was putting a lot of emphasis on a new instructional program. But very few of the reviews offered educators constructive criticism—or even mentioned—implementation of the program. That was a missed opportunity to improve something that was a real priority for a district, she said.
Delisle also gave the audience a glimpse into the department’s internal deliberations on how best to explain first-year data from the controversial School Improvement Grant program, slated to be released soon—possibly as early as next month. She wants to make it clear to district officials in the audience (and, umm, reporters) that you can’t draw big conclusions (such as which of the four school-improvement models works best) from just one year of student achievement data, which is all the department has collected and verified.
The department—and the field—still have a lot to learn about SIG, she said. “We know there are some successful transformation schools and turnaround schools,” she said. “We don’t know [yet] what’s common between them.”
And she’s worried about the political reaction to some of the data—GOP lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives just introduced a spending bill that would scrap money for SIG entirely.
“My concern is that people on the Hill will create the story and say, ‘Oh [not enough kids are graduating], that program doesn’t work,” she said.
Delisle, a former elementary school teacher, also had plenty of stories from her past jobs. She talked about how she spent a lot of time teaching her 2nd graders about the how to use the card catalog in the library. (Millenials: Here’s the Wikipedia explanation.) She joked that she should send them a sympathy card for wasting time on something that’s become so irrelevant. The story was meant to underscore the point that schools should be focusing on skills that will be around for the long haul, like critical thinking.