Opinion: Put education legislation in timeout

By Shawn Cunningham
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

On Thursday, Agency of Education Secretary Dan French announced a new statewide initiative to improve reading and math skills. According to a press release, the agency will “partnering with MetaMetrics to roll out (its) … Frameworks for reading and math cost-free to all Vermont school districts.”

To put that into plain language, MetaMetrics sells a service that analyzes individual test results, scores the results to show each student’s achievement in reading and math and provides suggestions of materials that are on the student’s achievement level. There’s more to it than that, and if you like details you can find them here.  The state is paying for the service with federal grant money.

This may be an excellent step toward improving test scores — and more importantly learning. And while the $245,000 MetaMetrics package is designed not to have a financial impact at the ground level, it’s not without a toll. Every new plan, program, initiative and legislative act requires planning and action by the schools and supervisory unions and that either stretches existing personnel or requires new ones.

With four weeks left until the opening of the legislative session, a search of pending legislation finds dozens of proposals awaiting action and plenty of time for more to be introduced. Once enacted, these bills are often found to have unanticipated problems that require extensions and subsequent legislation to iron out. And all the while, school boards, administrators and other school personnel are scrambling to figure out how to react to them.

Cynics will say that the education establishment thrives on this sort of mission creep and they are not entirely wrong. Greater and greater complexity makes understanding what is happening in school budgets and programs more and more opaque. On top of that, privacy statutes put vast amounts of data for understanding the system out of reach. The harder the system is to understand and work with, the more people are needed to make things work.

While nearly everyone can agree improvements can be made to our schools, it might be worthwhile for the Vermont legislature and the AOE to declare a moratorium for a year or two on enacting new programs and spend some time looking at what recent initiatives and laws have accomplished – or have failed to accomplish.

In the meantime, it would be interesting for the General Assembly to fund an office filled with skeptics to look at the possible unintended consequences of legislation before it gets passed and dropped on the students, teachers and taxpayers of Vermont.

Shawn Cunningham is senior reporter for The Chester Telegraph and has been reporting on education issues – including Act 46 – since 2015.

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  1. I couldn’t agree more. Teachers are already overwhelmed with district and state-mandated initiatives; so many they can’t keep up. It’s impossible. How about we gain proficiency with proficiency-based grading first before piling more initiatives on?