Category Archives: open meetings

Community Comment 11/8

Community comments I hope to deliver at tonight’s school board meeting:

I am here to speak about the science curriculum review recommendations that news coverage indicates you will be asked to approve at the next regular board meeting.

Tonight, I urge the board not to take action to adopt science curriculum recommendations at the next board meeting.

Here’s why: the science curriculum review proposals are not a straightforward textbook adoption that would be easy for us all to understand. Instead, due to the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards, the proposals involve significant changes to the district science curriculum. Unfortunately, not enough information has been provided to the community for us to assess how well the proposals will meet the full range of science programming needs of our secondary students.

Fortunately, the Next Generation Science Standards do not have to be implemented until the 2018-19 school year, so there doesn’t seem to be any reason the board–and the community–can’t hear a detailed presentation from the administration at the next board meeting about the proposal to implement the Next Generation Science Standards in the Iowa City Schools, with the board delaying action until the community has an opportunity to provide feedback about the proposal.

The state sets the standards, but we have options about how we, as a district, organize those standards into courses. And choices, also, to make about instructional methods and materials to be used in these courses.

Members of the community have questions about which options are really on the table with this proposal and whether the proposed options are really the best ones for the kids of this district. Questions about proposed course sequences and course syllabi. About whether there will be separate honors course offerings and how decisions will be made about which students get access to accelerated course work. And questions about textbooks and other instructional materials. Very little information, if any, has been provided to the community to answer these questions.

So, please, hear the administration’s presentation, then take at least a few weeks to allow the community to weigh in on the plan before authorizing the administration to move forward with it.

Thank you.


ATF: Science Assessment Work Update

The Assessment Task Force met on Tuesday to continue work on recommendations for a statewide science assessment.

Among other work, two important recommendations were adopted by the Task Force, which will guide our current work.

  1. The Task Force will recommend a short-term assessment that will be used no longer than the 2019-20 school year.
  2. The Task Force will recommend that the science assessment be administered once in each of the three grade bands (grades 3-5, 6-8, 9-12) in the short-term.

Implementation of the second recommendation will require legislative action, as Iowa Code currently requires that science assessments be administered to students in grades three through eleven, beginning in the 2016-17 school year.

Sunshine Week

It’s Sunshine Week and in honor of it, Ryan Koopmans [on Twitter as @RyanGKoopmans] is sharing an amicus brief in a pending Iowa Supreme Court case on open meetings involving Warren County Supervisors.

From page 7, on the purpose of open meetings laws:

That purpose–to educate, not punish–is logical but easy to miss. If government officials want to meet in private in violation of the law, then they will do so–and they probably won’t get caught, since it’s virtually impossible to monitor private conversations. So if the open meetings laws are to serve a purpose, it is to speak to the vast majority of officials who want to obey the law and do the right thing. It’s to provide a backstop against the natural inclination to hash things out in private.

And from page 8 (emphasis changed to bold):

The very first section of the Iowa Open Meetings Law makes clear that it’s an ideal that public officials should strive to achieve; it’s not something to be “gotten around.” The law’s purpose is to “assure” that “the basis and rationale of governmental decisions” are “easily accessible to the people,” and to do so it demands that any “[a]mbiguity in the construction or application of [Chapter 21] should be resolved in favor of openness.” Iowa Code [Section] 21.1 (emphasis added). That message is pretty blunt. But in case it is lost on any government official, we’ll rephrase it: If you’re taking actions that are designed to hide “the basis and rationale of governmental decisions,” and there is no stated exception in Chapter 21 for doing so, you’re probably violating the law.

I will honor Sunshine Week, in a lucky coincidence, by visiting the Capitol to attend and blog about an education committee meeting.

I will also honor it by thanking some of the local bloggers and microbloggers who help shine the light on government by reading government documents and/or attending open meetings and writing about them for the rest of us:.

Thank you!

Umm, Good Question

Mercedes Schneider had an interesting blog post last week, Florida Supers Fake Readiness for 2015 Computerized Testing–for Which Bus Drivers Could Serve As Techies, detailing a Florida DOE official’s testimony at a Florida Senate Education PreK-12 Committee “regarding Florida’s technological readiness for their state assessments.” (HT: @TruthinAmEd)

The questions and answers are interesting. How good is the information that Florida districts are technology ready for computer-based assessments? Answer: perhaps not very, as some superintendents reportedly told a senator that they felt pressured to certify readiness, even though they aren’t ready and expect to have problems administering the assessments. What’s the plan if Florida districts aren’t ready? Answer: we don’t have one.

As striking as these exchanges were, here’s the thing that is most striking to me: the Florida Legislature makes video recordings of committee hearings (and subcommittee hearings?) available to the public by way of The FLORIDA Channel:

Located in the state Capitol building, The FLORIDA Channel is a public affairs programming service funded by The Florida Legislature and produced and operated by WFSU-TV. It features programming covering all three branches of state government, and is Florida’s primary source for live, unedited coverage of the Governor and Cabinet, the Legislature and the Supreme Court.

How cool–and transparent–is that?

As it happens, the Iowa House Committee on Education heard from DE Director Brad Buck last week. What did he talk about? Did the representatives ask good–tough and probing–questions on behalf of their constituents? Or did they just ask easy–softball–questions? How good were Director Buck’s answers? What topics were discussed and what was the quality of that discussion?

The only people who know are the people who were in the room, because here’s the record of the meeting that has been provided to the public:

HEC minutes 012015

It isn’t easy for members of the public to attend committee meetings. Unlike lobbyists and Des Moines-based government employees, we may need to arrange to take most of the day off for travel to Des Moines and back while hoping that the meeting we wanted to attend hasn’t been moved or cancelled. This isn’t easy for many of us to do on short notice.

The Assessment Task Force report is expected to be presented to the Iowa House and Senate Committees on Education this session. Will tough and probing questions be asked? Will good answers be provided? One hopes so, but how will we know?

ATF: Process Matters

I have previously written about my concerns about whether task forces, boards, and commissions are operating in ways designed to obtain relatively independent, thorough, and fair study and deliberation of issues before recommendations are crafted or whether they are managed to build consensus around or buy-in for recommendations or decisions made ahead of time.

When the press only covers the recommendations–the results–of a task force, as it has in the case of the assessment task force, it isn’t necessarily easy to tell which sort of process was followed. Meeting notes are far from being transcripts and have not, in my opinion, adequately captured the quality, intensity, and extent of our discussions.*

Our perception that we were independent, thorough, and fair in our work is not an adequate substitute for the judgment of the public, for whom we work. If it were, open meetings and open records laws would be unnecessary as we could just assure you that we acted properly behind closed doors and just report out the results.

Here are some of the discussions and decisions that shaped the final recommendations that might have benefitted from public scrutiny:

  • discussion of DE conflict of interest (Jan. 2015)
  • decision not to review science assessments (Nov. 2014, Jan. 2015, Feb. 2015)
  • decision to open a new RFI after no vendor followed through with providing information on Smarter Balanced assessments under the initial RFI (June 2015)
  • decision to remove the combined ACT/ACT Aspire from further consideration (July 2015, Sept. 2015)
  • deliberations (Nov. 2015, Dec. 2015)

How did we do with our process? Did we get these decisions right? Were our deliberations thorough and fair? Did we raise and discuss the right issues? Does our process matter to your confidence in our recommendations?

Do we need better coverage and attendance at meetings of state level policymaking groups?What can be done to encourage coverage, especially as newsrooms are being downsized? Is there a role for bloggers here or technology–like the broadcast of school board and city council meetings and live audio- and video-streaming of the Iowa House and Senate?

*Nor have they always been timely posted; as of today, meeting notes for some meetings as far back as March are not yet posted.