Teachers urge Arne Duncan to renew school waiver

Washington’s rigorous new teacher evaluation system is one of the most comprehensive in the country.

And it’s working.

Washington educators have been phasing in the system over several years, and we’re now further along than most states. Locally, the Tacoma Education Association – the teachers’ union – has collaborated with Tacoma School District administrators on an evaluation system that is rigorous, reliable and fair, one that provides the feedback and support teachers need to be successful.

Teachers are proud of that work, and we think it’s going to pay off by strengthening classroom teaching and improving student learning.

Yet some politicians, pundits and other noneducators are unnecessarily jeopardizing the success of Washington’s new teacher evaluation system.

They want to force every school in Washington to use state test scores in teacher evaluations, even though the tests are changing next year, most teachers don’t administer the tests and the tests don’t do what proponents claim – measure an individual student’s academic growth over a school year. There’s no proof using those tests in teacher evaluations helps kids get a better education.

Forcing a top-down mandate from Olympia or Washington, D.C., undermines teachers’ faith and confidence in the accuracy and fairness of the new evaluation system. Here in Tacoma, it would damage the successful collaborative work we’ve done to strengthen our evaluation system.

A bipartisan majority of the state Senate heeded educators’ concerns, and by a 28-19 vote, defeated a bill that mandated the use of state test scores in teacher evaluations. Senators who voted for the bill said the change was needed before Secretary of Education Arne Duncan would renew Washington’s waiver from outdated federal regulations related to No Child Left Behind (aka ESEA).

Teachers – members of the Washington Education Association – believe the waiver is important, but mandating a top-down change in teacher evaluations isn’t the solution.

Instead, educators are urging Duncan to renew Washington’s ESEA waiver without more changes to teacher evaluations. Educators are asking Duncan for a three-year extension of the current waiver, which allows us to continue phasing in the new evaluation system for all teachers by 2017-18 and to ensure the tests we’re using are valid and reliable.

Since his previous efforts on this issue have not succeeded, Washington’s top education official, Randy Dorn, should request the waiver renewal immediately.

Because no final decisions have been made regarding the waiver, it’s premature for school officials to threaten specific school budget cuts. The Legislature is still in session, Tacoma voters just approved two school levies and federal funding overall has increased. And even if the waiver is not renewed, federal funding for low-income students will not be cut – that’s a fact.

It’s also a fact that forcing our public schools to adopt misguided, politically driven policies based on an outdated law does not help children. We encourage Olympia lawmakers, school district officials and community leaders to join teachers in focusing on actions that can make a real difference for students in Washington.

We can start by urging Duncan to renew the state’s ESEA waiver ASAP.

Adrienne Dale is a National Board Certified Teacher and president of the Tacoma Education Association, which represents nearly 2,000 teachers and certificated educators in Tacoma public schools.