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Federal crackdown on education standards creates state questions

The Obama administration finally uses its hammer. But it's hard to know what might change for schools, students and teachers.
Jay Inslee

Jay Inslee John Stang

Washington Schools Superintendent Randy Dorn

Washington Schools Superintendent Randy Dorn

Washington became the first state in the union Thursday to lose its No Child Left Behind Act waiver. But what does that really mean?

The answer is likely a few months away. The state will lose some flexibility in how it can allocate some federal dollars. But too many unknowns and variables still exist among Washington's 295 school districts to provide any clear-cut answers at this time.

Political shots were fired Thursday when U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent a letter to Randy Dorn, Washington's Superintendent of Public Instruction, to remove the state's conditional waiver from some of the requirements No Child Left Behind Act. As expected, Duncan pointed to the failure of the Washington Legislature to pass a bill earlier this year to make certain student standardized test scores one part of teachers' evaluations. That failure stemmed from complicated and sometimes confusing Olympia political maneuvers.

"I think it's a significant concern. The Legislature knew this would happen if it didn't act, and it chose not to act," said Dave Powell, executive director of the education advocacy organization Stand For Children. He noted that while Washington argued itself into political paralysis, Oregon has installed such a system that met the federal requirements.

Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, who led the Senate's opposition against the evaluation system bill, said, "The sky is not falling." 

Without the teacher-evaluations component, Duncan wrote, Washington became ineligible for the waiver that had allowed the state and local school districts more flexibility in allocating federal Title I money. The Title 1 program provides extra funding for high-poverty schools with poor performance scores.

The federal money involves amounts ranging from $38 million to $40 million in 2015-2017.

“Today’s news from Secretary Duncan is disappointing but not unexpected," said Gov. Jay Inslee. "The loss of this waiver could have been avoided if the state legislature had acted last session. ... Loss of that funding means those districts now face potential impacts that could include laying off some of Washington’s tremendous teachers or cutting back on programs that serve at-risk students."

Public Instruction Superintendent Dorn said, “Washington state has been doing great work under our waiver agreement. We have developed our own system that more accurately reflects the progress being made by schools across the state. But to get our waiver renewed for next year, the (federal) Department of Education was clear: The Legislature needed to amend state law to require teacher and principal evaluations to include student growth on state tests, when appropriate. I agree. Student progress should be one of multiple elements in a teacher’s evaluation.

In an unusually clear statement for a Democratic elected official repeatedly supported by the Washington Education Association, Dorn added, "Unfortunately the teacher’s union felt it was more important to protect their members than agree to that change and pressured the Legislature not to act.”

Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, tried to get the evaluations installed in the last legislative session. However, his bill went down on the Senate floor by a surprise combination of minority Democrats and conservative Republicans. Inslee supported Litzow's bill.

“Losing our waiver will hurt student achievement in our state, which is why we repeatedly offered to compromise with the most simple fix possible," Litzow said.

But others countered that the No Child Left Behind Act and the proposed teacher evaluation system were too flawed to justify passing Litzow's bill — despite the fact that it was almost a clone of an earlier bill by McAuliffe, who led the Senate Democrats in their later opposition to Litzow's legislation.

Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, said, “No Child Left Behind has proven to be ineffective — that is why 42 states receive this waiver. Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature were not willing to risk our kids' futures for policies that don’t work. The reality is the feds want a one-size-fits-all system that doesn’t fit Washington."


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Apr 25, 8:09 a.m. Inappropriate

I think there are two factors that point to this being overblown.

One is that 42 states have waivers from NCLB. What does that tell you that Sec'y Duncan believes in and enforces NCLB if that many states have waivers of one sort or another? (And, as has been pointed out elsewhere, what is the likelihood that all 42 are in line with the waiver as Washington State proved not to be?)

Two, when Washington State has about 95% of its schools declared "failing" under NCLB, what will that tell us? Those of us who know our districts know it is not true (and not even possible) that we have that many failing schools. Even Superintendent Dorn knows this as does the Governor.

Again, that "failing" tag for that many schools will only go to show how ridiculous NCLB really is (and the failure of the Obama administration, including Arne Duncan, to get Congress to review and renew it).

Our districts will lose some flexibility. Any dollars they don't spend - and Seattle and Tacoma fell into this category - go right back into their district's general fund.

The sky is not falling for Washington State. In my opinion, there is no shame in standing up to a bully. If you read Sec'y Duncan's letter to Dorn, the last line is something of a "if you do what I say, I'll think about giving you your waiver."

Duncan has taken something of a gamble here because if Washington State proceeds on its own and continues to make forward progress, then other states may follow suit and ignore NCLB.

westello

Posted Fri, Apr 25, 8:18 a.m. Inappropriate

The point, to me, is the Bush era program NCLB is a total failure. It was of no help then, and it's of no help now. With The House doing everything possible to block any initiative that might make the current administration appear successful they have no choice but to continue support for this failed legislation. Unfunded federal mandates are a burden to the states and such poorly directed legislation only serves to make people think education is failing our students, when it is clearly not. As always some students fail. It's not necessarily the fault of education as a whole.

elbowman

Posted Fri, Apr 25, 9:15 a.m. Inappropriate

"The National Flood Insurance Program is currently $24 billion in debt and taxpayers will be forced to pay for any additional payouts until that situation is solved."

No Child Left Behind is like the National Flood Insurance Program, it is a morass of incoherent policy, which needs to be fixed.

Posted Sat, Apr 26, 5:44 a.m. Inappropriate

Washington should stop taking Homeland Security money and Social Services Funding until the Federal Government stops enforcing Immigration Laws completely too.

Cameron

Posted Tue, Apr 29, 9:48 a.m. Inappropriate

Tempest in a teapot. This is all political theater that has almost nothing to do with students or education.

The money isn't lost. Anyone who says that it is lost is lying to you and you should disbelieve everything else they have to say on the issue. The spending will be directed by the federal government towards private tutoring companies instead of directed by school districts as they see fit.

The amount of money, $40 million, sounds like a lot, but it is a tiny, tiny portion of the public K-12 education spending in this state.

There is no consequence for a school getting a "failing" label from the federal government. It sounds bad, but it doesn't mean anything. Consequences are only supposed to kick in when a school fails to meet the goals for five years in a row.

There are no consequences of even missing the goals for five years in a row. While it is true that schools in Step 5 of NCLB are supposed to be re-invented or transformed or whatever, the reality is that the law is completely un-enforced. Here in Seattle Aki Kurose middle school has been in Step 5 for years and years. The staff hasn't been replaced, the school hasn't been closed, and the state hasn't taken it over. The District just submits an annual Continuous School Improvement Plan in which they promise to keep doing what they have been doing.

No students will be transported since there won't be any "non-failing" schools for them to be transported to.

In short, this is a non-event from an academic and budgetary perspective. It is all just political theater, allowing Arne Duncan, Jay Inslee, Randy Dorn, and a few members of the state legislature to puff themselves up and make pretentious statements that are utterly without any real impact.

Here's the really funny thing: Arne Duncan's position is that the students would be better off if the federal government didn't re-direct the spending of the $40 million, but he's going to re-direct it anyway because there is something more important to him than the best interests of the students. How's that for creepy?

coolpapa

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