Dear Commons Community,
Schools in the state of Washington are being subjected to harsh punishments because the state legislature refuses to require that teacher evaluations be based in part on student test scores. In fact, nearly nine in 10 Washington State public schools, including some high-achieving campuses in the state’s most moneyed communities, have been relegated to a federal blacklist of failure, requiring them to set aside 20 percent of their federal funding for private tutoring or to transport students to schools not on the failing list, if parents wish. The New York Times chronicles the issue as follows:
“Three years ago, Lakeridge Elementary School, where most pupils come from lower-income families, was totally remade. A new principal arrived and replaced half the staff, and she lengthened the school day and year. Working with a $3 million federal grant, the staff collaborated with the University of Washington to train teachers in new instructional techniques. The results were powerful: Test scores soared.
Yet just before school resumed for this fall, Lakeridge learned that it had been declared a failing school under federal education law.
The schools in Washington are caught in the political crossfire of a battle over education policy. Because the State Legislature has refused to require that teacher evaluations be based in part on student test scores, schools are being held to an outdated benchmark that is all but impossible to achieve — that by 2014, every single student would be proficient in reading and math. Thousands of schools in California, Iowa, North Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming have also been declared failing for the same reason.
The 100 percent requirement was set under No Child Left Behind, the 2001 signature law of the George W. Bush administration once hailed as a bipartisan project to hold schools accountable for the academic achievement of all students, especially children of color and those who live in poverty. While educators have increasingly pushed for revisions, Congress has failed to change the law, as Democrats and Republicans squabble over what role the federal government should play in public schools.
Faced with congressional gridlock, the Obama administration two years ago bypassed Congress and issued waivers to 43 states, excusing them from the requirement on the condition that they put into effect rigorous academic standards, such as the Common Core, and incorporate student test scores into performance ratings of teachers. A handful of states, including California and Vermont, refused to use test scores in teacher ratings, and either did not apply for or were denied waivers.
Washington State originally agreed to rate teachers with student test scores as a required component. But the Legislature decided instead to let districts choose whether to use the scores. As a result of that gap between can and must, the United States Department of Education in April revoked the state’s waiver from No Child Left Behind, triggering a cascade of paperwork for the state and school districts to identify failing schools, and diverting about $40 million in federal funding, the 20 percent set aside.
Oklahoma also lost its waiver in August, but for a different reason: The state has withdrawn from the Common Core, a set of reading and math standards adopted by more than 40 states, and reverted to older, less rigorous academic guidelines. Janet Barresi, superintendent of public instruction, anticipated the state would spend an extra $4 million to $6 million simply processing paperwork for schools now marked as failing.”
Only in the United States and especially with the Arne Duncan United States Department of Education do we punish children for the incompetence of our elected and appointed policy leaders.