Washington State Loses No Child Left Behind Waiver

The state of Washington has lost its waiver from the federal government from No Child Left Behind requirements.

Donna Baker Blankinship, reporting for the Associated Press, stated that US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan notified state officials that the waiver had been nullified because the state did not meet the federal mandates that student performance on standardized tests should be included in teachers’ ratings.  This means that $40 million of state federal funding may no longer be used by the state at its discretion.  Previously, the state had allocated this money for improving student performance.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is worried that taking away the waiver will result in cutting programs that support children who are struggling and could also mean laying off teachers.  Duncan’s reply was that the state had not kept its commitments. Legislators could not come to an agreement concerning the directive to have teacher evaluations linked to students’ standardized test scores. The Washington Education Association (WEA), the state teachers’ union, agreed with the state government’s choice not to change the teacher evaluation system.

Inslee, along with Superintendent of Education Randy Dorn, said that the decision was a disappointment, but it was not a surprise.  However, State Sen. Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island) said that this could have been avoided.

“If the goal was to help students be successful, I’m trying to figure out how the action taken by the Department of Education, how that will lead to better student outcomes,” he said. “You’re penalizing the poorest schools in the state of Washington.”

Washington state legislators, because of influence from teachers and the “test fatigue” experienced by students and parents, resisted the addition of  students’ test scores in teacher evaluation.  Martin Kaste reported for NPR that although Washington state will not lose federal dollars, the effect of taking away the waiver will be that under-performing schools will have to use 20% of their funding for hiring private tutoring, or bussing disgruntled students to other schools.  There is also the possibility that they could be identified as “failing schools” which could result in having school staff replaced.

Dorn was in favor of linking students’ standardized test scores to teacher evaluations and now bemoans the fact that schools will have to write letters to their families stating that they are a “failing” school.  While Washington is the first school to lose it’s waiver, it probably will not be the last as legislatures across the country will also choose not to comply with the  waiver’s expectations.

Joel Connelly writes in his Seattlepi.com blog that U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington) was quoted as saying that No Child Left Behind is a flawed policy and should be reconfigured by Congress.  But Excellent Schools Now disagreed and stated that the Washington Legislature was at fault for not doing a simple tweak to a bill that would have prevented the nulling of the waiver.

Reactions across the state, says reporter Kate Riley, writing for The Seattle Times, were mixed.  Many said that the legislature was influenced by the WEA;  concerns about teacher job security were voiced;  some thought that allowing the federal government to dictate the use of certain programs using money as an enticement is repugnant, while, at this point, funding for schools is more important than a philosophical principle. Another point of view was that the WEA should have negotiated on ways that the test score could be “fairly” used for teacher evaluations.  Another recurring sentiment was that the legislature failed to do what needed to be done, and now students were going to suffer, especially low-income students, because of their lack of courage.