Washington’s congressional Democrats, along with Superintendent of Public Schools Randy Dorn, are again trying to cover for their legislative counterparts, who did not do what needed doing to protect schools and parents from the consequences of failing to comply with the No Child Left Behind education reform bill adopted under the administration of President George W. Bush.
The law is defective, but that is no excuse for the Legislature’s failure to mandate that student performance in reading and math be considered in teacher evaluations. The change that would have been necessary to avoid U.S. Department of Education sanctions was a matter of changing “may” to “shall” consider student progress. There was no predetermined weighting of grades in evaluations; something nominal would have been enough.
But that was too much for the Washington Education Association, which put pressure on Democratic legislators to do nothing despite warnings from Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray that Education Secretary Arne Duncan was not going to extend a waiver Washington and many other states had from the evaluation requirement.
Sure enough, Duncan held his ground, and school districts face the double-whammy of losing control of $40 million in transportation and counseling money and having to notify almost every parent that their child attends a school failing in the eyes of the federal government. In theory, that gives parents the right to send their child to a school where every student – every student – is proficient in math and reading.
Few districts have any such schools, so parents will get those letters and will have no alternative choice for their child even if they did want to move them out of their neighborhood school.
So, warn Dorn and the congressional Democrats, parents will receive the notices about their local school failing and take their frustrations out by not supporting levies that are still an important part of local school funding, and “needlessly and dangerously distract Washington’s voters and lawmakers at a time when transparent, truthful information about our schools is most important.”
The letters will also unfairly characterize the progress made by Washington schools, which Duncan himself has praised effusively.
Dorn and the Democratic delegation argue that districts do not have enough time to get the parent letters out before school starts because all the school evaluation data will not be available until mid-August. That’s a pretty thin excuse. If Duncan wants to use denial of a waiver for Washington as an example for other states, he will see it for what it is.
Inslee, who is negotiating new teacher contracts, might help sell the proposition if he can get the WEA to back off on their resistance to using student performance in evaluations. He bucked the union on the issue during the legislative session, and insisting on a change might give him some leverage.
Students and their parents deserve as much.