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Thu., Aug. 28, 2014

Editorial: The political system, not public schools, has failed

If you’re a parent of a public school student, chances are you’ve received a letter this month saying your child’s school is “failing.” But before acting, or overreacting, a history lesson is in order.

The U.S. Department of Education delivered a rap on the knuckles when it declined to renew Washington state’s waiver from the dreaded No Child Left Behind law. The waivers themselves are an indication the law itself is failing.

No state can meet the law’s requirement that 100 percent of children attain proficiency on standardized tests. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan knows this. The authors of the original legislation, adopted by Congress in 2001, knew this. The law was supposed to be updated and aligned with reality in 2007, but members of Congress can’t agree on how to proceed. The issue is yet another victim of D.C. gridlock.

Hence, the waivers. Without them, school districts across the country would be sending “fail” mail. All it takes is one student who doesn’t pass state assessments on math or reading. Schools are also deemed to be failing if less than 95 percent of the district’s students take the tests.

So why did the feds single out our state? Because one of the conditions of the waiver is that states tie teacher evaluations to student test scores, and the Legislature failed to pass a bill that would do so. The feds’ punishment is to constrain local control of $40 million that typically assist the schools that need it most.

Our view is that it makes sense to include student scores as one factor in determining teacher effectiveness. Gov. Jay Inslee and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn lobbied for the change. But the teachers union felt otherwise and successfully pressured lawmakers to scuttle the bill.

Last Thursday, the issue took another odd turn when Duncan announced that states that had passed the requisite teacher evaluation component could delay its use for a year. Forty states have made the change over the past four years, according to the New York Times. If Olympia had acted, the state could’ve postponed implementation.

Duncan said in a blog post, “I believe testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room of a lot of schools.”

To recap, the feds mandated a testing issue, punished this state for not complying, then announced a moratorium based on the arguments of those opposed to the idea of tying student scores to teacher evaluations.

Politics aside, what are parents to do?

The law says they can send their children to another school, and the district will pick up the cost of transportation. They can also access tutoring services. But before doing that, consider that the new school could also be “failing” or soon will be.

We recommend contacting teachers or education officials before making a decision. You might find that your student’s school is doing fine, and it’s the political system that’s failed.

To respond to this editorial online, go to and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

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