Getting a Seat at the Table

Scott McLeod asked this weekend whether StudentsFirst deserves a seat at the policy table in Iowa. His blog post is a follow up on an interview he did with Mike Wiser for an article published in the Sioux City Journal about StudentsFirst’s move to take on a more active (more public?) role in shaping education policy in Iowa.

I find myself quibbling about the notion of “deserving” to participate, however, the post does raise interesting questions about how and why particular people find themselves with a seat at the table on education task forces–or committees at the district level–and whether it really matters anyway.

The Council on Educator Development was created by Division VI of HF215 [remember to click on the conference committee report version if you look up the legislation to get the language as it actually passed]. The council must have at least seventeen voting members who are to be appointed by the director of the Iowa Department of Education. Seventeen seats at the table were specifically reserved, so to speak, by the Legislature to represent particular groups or stakeholders as follows: eight educators who shall be subject to evaluation under whatever system is developed, and one each to represent the DE, the AEAs, ISEA, SAI, IASB, UEN, the largest approved practitioner preparation program in Iowa, an approved administrator program in Iowa, and parents of Iowa elementary or secondary students.

The Legislature did not specifically reserve a seat for StudentsFirst at the table, so in that sense, they certainly aren’t entitled to a seat at the table.

Presumably named organizations forward the name of their choice of representative to the director, otherwise, I surmise that it is a matter of knowing the right people to get selected for one of the other seats at the table.

It appears that Patty Link is plenty well-connected to ask for and get that seat at the table. Whether she actually represents Iowa parents (rather than Michelle Rhee/StudentsFirst) is a good question for public debate, although I am resistant to the implication from Tammy Wawro’s comment on McLeod’s post that parent representatives should (must?) be drawn from the ranks of PTO/PTA organizations.

McLeod lists a number of reasons we might not want StudentsFirst at the table, but I can’t help wonder whether it really matters.

I think the answer depends on whether the task force is going to engage in a relatively independent, thorough study and deliberation of the issues before arriving at recommendations or if it will only function as political theater of a sort, intended to provide the appearance of thorough study and deliberation while actually “building consensus” around recommendations that are largely decided upon before the task force or committee members were even identified and invited to the table.

After all, it clearly wouldn’t be hard for the director to identify people likely to be friendly toward DE desired recommendations and likely to be compliant with being managed toward that end. In which case, I can’t really get too excited about who is or isn’t chosen to serve as a rubber stamp.

However, if the task force will really be working towards an independent set of recommendations, I can see why some might not want Patty Link to have the opportunity to advocate for StudentsFirst’s agenda throughout the process.

If you are interested in following the work of any of the task forces created by SF 2284 (2012 legislation) or HF 215 (2013 legislation), the Iowa DE now has a task force page on the website with links for each of the task forces.

Have you ever sought appointment to a district or statewide committee, task force, or board? If you have served, what is your sense of how the committee, task force, or board functioned? If you are in charge of choosing members for district or statewide committees, task forces, or boards, how do you decide who to invite?


2 thoughts on “Getting a Seat at the Table

  1. Matt Townsley

    Interesting topic, Karen. As you know, I served on Iowa’s competency-based education task force. I did not seek out this opportunity. One day an invitation from the DE showed up in my inbox, but the process wasn’t clear (at least to me) how names were selected. My guess is that someone at the DE solicited names from various contacts (AEAs?) around the state. In the case of the CBE task force, it is my understanding a small group had been previously established for an earlier CBE summit therefore the task force was an extension of the previous group.

    You also asked how the task force functioned. Here’s a quick summary:
    The initial agenda was created jointly by the DE liaison and the appointed chairperson (in my case, an AEA administrator). Future agendas were crafted in response to various sub-committee tasks (that were in turn in response to the legislature’s requests) that were completed and items as they came up in our work. Several of the task force members did a lot of the leg work in their various areas of expertise and passion (i.e. researching and revising various rubrics) while our DE liaison assisted behind the scenes with clerical support for our reports, setting up meeting times and locations, and ensuring various guests could attend our meetings. I can’t speak for the other task forces, however I felt my experience was very much geared towards building consensus around ideas that came from those within the room rather than those outside the room. Every one or two meetings, it was challenging to build group consensus around a given idea. It made the process messy from time to time, but at the same time incredibly meaningful.

    Let me know if there are any other specifics your’e interested in surrounding the work of DE task forces.

    1. Karen W Post author

      Matt, thanks for taking the time to share your experience. My limited experience with this sort of thing has felt more managed toward a particular outcome or perhaps, in a few instances, really more like an opportunity for people participating to feel like they had been heard without really hearing them, if that makes sense.

      I’m glad to know that you had a different experience. I think I prefer messy but incredibly meaningful to the alternative.

      Also, thanks for shedding a bit of light on the selection process. That’s a part of the process that doesn’t seem to have much transparency most of the time.

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