Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Plea to US Senators and Representatives for Aid in Response from US DOE

Dear Maine Senators and Representatives,

I am writing to request your aid in my dealings with the US DOE.  As I will explain in detail below, I have been trying for weeks to get clear answers to what I thought were cut and dry questions. 

My requests to the US DOE was for clear, detailed information about district and Maine's consequences to Title I funding if state standardized test participation rates are below 95%.  After an initial swift, but unsatisfactory, response, I have been ignored by the US DOE. 

I am against high stakes standardized testing, but my complaint with the US DOE is not in regards to the tests, but rather the US DOE's seeming refusal to provide this information.  I work to inform members of my community about test refusal, and people repetitively ask for the federal consequences if opt outs lower participation rates.  It is a valid and responsible question, to which I can find no answer.  Parents can not make an informed choice without this information. 

I am a co-administrator of an opt out group on Facebook.  We have 200 members including: school committee members, families from all Lewiston schools, connections with all PTOs, and many teachers, and thus sharing this information has the potential to reach all Lewiston Public Schools families.  Furthermore, through our members' personal connections and social networking through the MEA and the Maine chapter of the Badass Teacher's Association, our information can reach teachers and families across the state.  In other words, this information has the potential for a very wide audience, if only the US DOE would respond. 

Here is the time line thus far:
Feb 12th - I email the Maine DOE on this matter regarding state consequences. 
Feb 17th - Samantha Warren of the Maine DOE and I send a series of emails where she answers my questions. 
Feb 19th - I email Susan Wilhem of the US DOE with my request for information.  Ultimately, Emily Bank is charged with responding.
Feb 20th - Emily Bank writes me.  Her two paragraph reply is dense with legalese and does not actually answer my question.  She BCC's or forwards the message to someone at the Maine DOE. 
Feb 21st - I reply to Ms Bank asking for more information. 
Feb 22nd - I am CC'ed on an email from Acting Education Commissioner Tom Desjardin to Ms Bank.  He explains that he did not see her response as a real answer to my questions, notes that he would not allow his staff to interact with constituents in such a manner, and asks that she write him back with the requested information.  
Feb 26th - I write Ms Bank again reminding her of my request, and Mr Desjardin's.  I explain to her that the information I am requesting is time sensitive. 
March 1st - Mr Desjardin asks me if I have heard from Ms Bank.  I have not.
March 1st - Mr Desjardin writes to Deborah Delisle of the US DOE regarding the matter.
March 1st - I share my frustration with some other educators.  A few of them email Ms Bank with the same request for information.  
March 3rd - I write Ms Bank again briefly restating my request and stating her lack of response is unprofessional.  

I have spent a lot of time wondering why Ms Bank is mute.  If she were out of the office, she should have an auto reply.  If she is working on finding me an answer or forwarding my request on, why not a brief note saying so?  I am left with only three conclusions, none of them uplifting.  She must find the communication unimportant, or she can not find the requested information, or she is actively keeping the information from citizens.  I have no wish to attack Ms Bank personally, but sadly, I have no other contact at the US DOE on this matter.  Her failure to respond to me, other educators, or Mr Desjardin has led me to ask you for help. 

The Maine Educational Assessment (also known as Smarter Balanced) begins in Lewiston on March 17th.  To be fair to parents, they would need this information by Friday, March 13th to process it, make a decision, and then contact their school if they ultimately decide to opt out.  Time is running out on this matter. 

I am sorry to be so long winded, but I wanted to give you a thorough description of the situation.

Thank you for your time, and I hope you can help this information reach Mainers. 

Jaclyn Boyd