State rolls dice with loss of child-left-behind waiver

The OlympianApril 29, 2014 

The state is rolling the dice with the loss of child-left-behind waiver.

GREG WAHL-STEPHENS — AP

It’s no surprise that the U.S. Department of Education rescinded the state of Washington’s waiver to the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. State House Democrats sided with the teacher’s union to block a simple legislative change that would have required factoring statewide student test scores into teacher evaluations.

As a result, the state will lose about $40 million in Title I funds that would have otherwise been available for the school districts’ 2014-2015 operating budgets.

And parents of children in South Sound schools that don’t meet the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) goal to reach proficiency in reading in math in this spring’s tests, will get a letter saying their school is failing.

School districts have to set aside 20 percent of its Title I funds if parents of failing schools want their children bused to other schools, or to pay for those students’ private sector tutoring. That could have a huge impact on K-12 schools

State Superintendent Randy Dorn said Tacoma Public Schools would have lost $1.8 million this school year, which they were able to use to add preschool to five elementary schools and add instructional coaches to all Title I schools in the district.

Dorn added, “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. 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.”

The Washington Education Association had a curious response to loss of the waiver. Spokesperson Lucinda Young told a March senate panel that school districts have a “huge amount of money.”

That statement conflicts with the WEA’s perennial position that K-12 schools need additional funding. The Washington Policy Center astutely points out the WEA only believes schools have plenty of money when policy conditions are attached.

The gambit orchestrated by House Democrats and the WEA doesn’t excuse the U.S. Congress from failing to fix the bad No Child Left Behind law. The act set unrealistic standards for the nation’s public schools, and threatened to pull funding when they failed.

To keep the money flowing, the Obama Administration granted waivers to states if they promised to use statewide student test scores in teacher evaluations. Most states complied. Washington did not.

Senate Bill 5246 would have fixed that, requiring teacher evaluations to use statewide tests, but not exclusively. It allowed other measurements of student growth, and did not dictate the weight given to statewide tests relative to district-wide or school-wide tests in teacher reviews.

Now, students – particularly low-income students – and their families, and school districts must bear this burden because Democrats stood with the union on principle. It was an utter legislative failure.

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