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Editorial: Schools will feel pinch of inaction by legislators

Washington’s legislators left Olympia last month without doing the one thing that could spare school districts from serious disruption: They did not pass a law requiring student testing outcomes be included in teacher evaluations.

Gov. Jay Inslee, Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn and Sen. Patty Murray warned lawmakers that failure to do so would take control of $40 million in federal money away from the districts and upset counseling, tutoring and other services.

Their warnings were not enough to overcome strong resistance from the Washington Education Association.

Thursday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan informed Dorn that Washington will lose the waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements that link student test scores and funding. He left the door open to reconsideration if the Legislature reconvenes to make the fix, but an Inslee spokeswoman said he does not plan to call a special session for that purpose.

Without a clear signal from the legislative leadership that they have the votes to make the change, Inslee has little choice. He and Dorn were concerned enough about losing the waiver that they broke with the WEA. Too few legislators showed the same courage. Perhaps by the time a new Legislature meets in January, the consequences of fealty to the teachers union rather than students and parents will have changed a few minds.

Spokane Public Schools, for example, will have to set aside $2 million in federal money now dedicated to programs that are measurably improving student performance, and make them available to parents who might want their child to receive alternative services from providers such as Communities in Schools. The district must pick up the costs, including transportation.

Also, because no school has all of its students proficient in math and reading, parents will receive a notice advising them they can send their child to a school in another district that is complying with those standards. In the Spokane area, only the Great Northern School District, with fewer than 50 students, fits the profile. So, nobody is going anywhere.

There are long-term consequences that also could be damaging, for example state takeover of failing schools, and the threat was multiplied with the adoption of tougher tests that measure progress on the Common Core curriculum that is designed to get students performing on a par with those in countries that have leap-frogged the United States in educational attainment.

Washington had adopted higher standards than those associated with No Child Left Behind, and students have responded well, which even Duncan acknowledges. But without the waiver, the state reverts to a foolish requirement of 100 percent math and reading proficiency, even for those with learning disabilities.

The state and teachers did agree to a rating system intended to identify those who cannot get the job done. Unwisely, student test results were excluded. Leaving them entirely out of the equation invited trouble with the Department of Education, and Duncan has made it official.

No Child Left Behind was and is a bad law, but failure to comply is going to hurt students.


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Editorial: Washington state lawmakers scramble to keep public in the dark

State lawmakers want to create a legislative loophole in Washington’s Public Records Act. While it’s nice to see Democrats and Republicans working together for once, it’s just too bad that their agreement is that the public is the enemy. As The Spokesman-Review’s Olympia reporter Jim Camden explained Feb. 22, lawmakers could vote on a bill today responding to a court order that the people of Washington are entitled to review legislative records.