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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Editorial: Washington legislators must change teacher evaluation language

With the Legislature planning to adjourn as soon as Thursday, a standoff on teacher evaluations continues, with potentially chaotic impacts on Spokane-area schools.

The threat is real enough that Gov. Jay Inslee has broken with the Washington Education Association on the issue, an example more of his fellow Democrats should follow. Inslee, after meeting with Arne Duncan, is convinced the secretary of education will not extend a waiver given to states that were not requiring that student test scores figure into teacher assessments.

With good reason. Iowa, Utah and Arkansas were cut off earlier this year.

The Bush-era No Child Left Behind and Secondary Education acts tie federal education money to student progress in reading and math. All students are supposed to be proficient by the end of the next school year. It’s an impossible, foolish standard, but where students are not progressing, teachers are supposed to be held accountable.

Washington state law says student performance “can” figure into evaluations. Federal law says “must,” and most states have yielded to the edict from Washington, D.C. Holdouts were granted waivers, but no more. That was Duncan’s message to Inslee when the two met after the surprise defeat in February of Senate Bill 5246 at the hands of Democrats supporting teachers and Republicans thumbing their noses at the other Washington.

Very not funny considering the consequences. And very destructive to Spokane-area districts that receive more than $3 million in No Child Left Behind money.

Because no school within the Spokane Public Schools, or few schools anywhere, will attain 100 percent student math and reading proficiency, the parents of every child in the district would have the option of sending their child to any school they choose, space permitting. The district would have to set aside $1.8 million of its federal money to transport the students.

In addition to this bus-athon, the district would have to set aside another $900,000 for counseling by independent providers instead of district staff.

There are far better uses for this money as the district and Washington prepare to implement Common Core curriculum, which will significantly raise the bar for student progress.

Statewide, around $40 million is at risk if legislators do not break with the WEA, which argues its members made all the concessions they will in 2012, when they agreed to the evaluations. Those members also worked mightily for Inslee’s election that year, and they are unhappy with his insistence Washington must toe Duncan’s line.

Meanwhile, the state House of Representatives passed an education budget that allocates $56 million for teacher cost-of-living salary increases. They may be due, but it seems fair to ask why now, when legislation they block puts $40 million in jeopardy, and school districts on the verge?

It’s not a question of can legislators change the evaluation language, it’s a must.

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