Archives for category: Federal Waiver


Subject: POLITICO Breaking News

The Education Department is pulling Washington state’s No Child Left Behind waiver because the state has not met the department’s timeline for tying teacher evaluations to student performance metrics.

Washington is the first state to lose its waiver. The loss will give local districts less flexibility in using federal funds. For instance, they may now be required to spend millions on private tutoring services for at-risk students. The waiver revocation could also result in nearly every school across the state being labeled as failing under NCLB.

Washington had pledged in its waiver application to make student growth a significant factor in teacher and principal evaluations by the 2014-15 school year. But the state Legislature refused to pass a bill mandating that student performance on statewide assessments be included in teacher evaluations. The department placed the state on “high-risk” status in August. Arizona, Kansas and Oregon are also at risk of losing their waivers.

For more information…


Secretary of Education Arne Duncan handed out numerous waivers to states to avoid the 2014 deadline in the No Child Left Behind law.

Under the law, every state must assure that every single child in grades 3-8 is proficient on state tests of reading and mathematics.

No state met the deadline. If the law remains in effect (it was supposed to be reauthorized in 2007, but gets extended year after year), every state would be declared a failed state, and virtually every public school in the United States would be closed or privatized or suffer some other sanction for failing to meet an impossible goal. It bears pointing out that no nation in the world can claim that 100% of its students are proficient in reading and math.

But Duncan didn’t hand out waivers wholesale. Instead, he made the waiver conditional on the state agreeing to accept his conditions, which were similar to the conditions in Race to the Top. In effect, states are now following Race to the Top requirements but without the prize money.

One of the central conditions of the waiver, like Race to the Top, was that states must agree to evaluate their teachers and principals based to a significant degree on the test scores of their students.

Washington State has failed to create such a system. Today Arne Duncan withdrew Washington State’s NCLB waiver to punish it for failing to do as he demanded.

Perhaps legislators in Washington State noticed that this method of evaluating teachers and principals has failed wherever it was tried.

Perhaps they read the joint report of the National Academy of Education and the American Educational Research Association, which cautioned that “value-added measurement” was inaccurate and unstable, and that it measures who is in the classroom rather than teacher quality. The legislators probably did not have a chance to read the recent report of the American Statistical Association, which also cautioned on the use of VAM, because of its imprecision and its unintended effects. But they may have read Stanford Professor Edward Haertel’s advice that states should not set numerical percentages for the use of test scores to evaluate teachers. All of these reports reach the same conclusion: that Duncan’s favorite solution to raising teacher quality does not have evidence to support it.

Let’s hope that Washington State says no to the illegitimate demands of the Secretary of Education. Duncan is overreaching. He is not the nation’s superintendent of schools. He should learn about federalism and about the limited role of the federal government in the area of education.

Meanwhile, I hope that the state of Washington sues the Secretary of Education and helps him learn about federalism and about the importance of evidence in policymaking.

Here is Duncan’s official letter to Washington State, notifying them that they are being punished for defying his orders.

Here is Peter Greene’s deconstruction of Arne Duncan’s letter to Washington State: read here.

Arne Duncan may withdraw the waiver he extended to Washington State because it failed to adopt a test-based teacher evaluation system, as he demanded.

The first question is, what this will mean for Washington State, should Duncan withdraw the waiver? If the state reverts to the requirements of NCLB, then very likely every school and every district will be a “failing” school or district and therefore subject to draconian punishments, such as state takeover, takeover by a private management company, takeover by charter operators, or closure. In short, the entire state public school system would be privatized, subject to state control, or closed. The utter absurdity of NCLB would be on public display for all to see. That might be a valuable lesson for the nation, helping to hasten an end to a failed law.

Another interesting question that the Washington State issue raises is where Arne Duncan got the authority to set the terms of waivers from the law. Did Congress say he could do it? I don’t think so. Is it legal for him to create conditions that mirror Race to the Top requirements but without RTTT funding? Congress might want to know the answer to that question, especially Senator Patty Murray of Washington, who will not be happy to see her entire state branded a failure. Senator Murray is chair of the Senate Budget Committee and a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee.

Third, why should he revoke his legally dubious waiver because a state fails to enact a program that has consistently failed wherever it was tried? Evaluating teachers by test scores has not worked anywhere, has received negative reviews from most education researchers, yet Duncan clings to it with religious faith.

Why should Washington State be punished for demonstrating good judgment, wisdom, and critical thinking?

A teacher in North Carolina left this comment:

NC has requested a waiver that even though we are now on the new evaluation system (which, interestingly, is continuously being reworked (Home Base) because Pearson is still getting kinks out—-possibly another one of those airplanes being built in the air)—anyway, the waiver would allow that even though the online evaluator system (which I assume factors in test scores) is up and running (sort of) that it not be used to make personnel decisions until 2016-2017.
It seems to be the era of mandates that are impossible, and then a series of waivers to get out of them. It seems like a parent making ridiculous parameters for children, but then constantly giving passes to work around them.
Most want to still blame everything on W. I cannot accept that. What is going on right now has nothing to do with W, directly speaking. There was an opportunity, I am assuming, to move away from NCLB and instead we are even deeper into that type of mandating and waivering (wavering).
Platitudes never seem viable. To me they just indicate posturing on the part of decision-makers.
While it may be wiser to vote for Democrats in NC in you are pro-public school, I am still waiting for Democrats to take ownership in some of the troubles we are seeing.

Add to that—while teachers can always improve, I will say that as an institution public school is far more sophisticated than any reformer would ever want to admit. I read over the stack of IEPs yesterday provided to me by the special ed teachers (because I am on the team of teachers who teach the children and therefore need to know about accommodations, modifications, behavior patterns etc) and I was thinking to myself that no matter what kind of undergraduate education a young graduate has had, a building full of inexperienced educators (such as a charter could be—not sure that they ever have been), could not possibly offer the services to special education students that a well-established public school can. The problem is right now there are ideas that want to treat everyone the same. And we are risking throwing out the baby with the bathwater in a big way. A big, expensive way. We gotta figure this out. And we can’t just blame it on W.

Education Week reports that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has tightened the screws on states and districts that get a waiver from NCLB issued by him.

They must comply with his interpretation of teacher quality and must reaffirm their commitment to Common Core (“college=and-career-readiness standards”), while upping the ante on accountability.

Based on his experience in Chicago, Duncan seems certain that more carrots and more sticks will do the trick.

The waivers enable him to impose Race to the Top requirements on every state, even those that won no money at all.

Blogger Yinzercation reports that Pennsylvania finally got its waivers from No Child Left Behind’s irrational goals of 100% success, only to face the equally punitive regime crafted by the Obama administration.

ATP (Adequate Yearly Progress) will be replaced by SPP (Student Performance Profile). Three of the four new measures are based on standardized tests. No surprise there. Love those tests

“This new SPP system will label schools without providing any real help for struggling students. If a school receives federal Title I money (based on its proportion of poor students), it will be labeled “priority,” “focus,” or “reward.” All other schools will get a profile score. It’s not clear if that score will be a number or letter grade (A – F), which is very trendy right now among corporate-style-reformers who support vouchers, charter-expansion, school closure, and other privatization efforts. Either way, the bottom line is these rating systems do not appear to work and are definitely subject to cheating.”

She points to research by Matthew Di Carlo showing that such grading systems typically identify schools serving minority communities as low-performing, setting them up for closure or privatization.

Governor Corbett boasted that the new measures would bring help to struggling schools.

Yinzercation asks, “Hello, what? Where is the money to hire back our teachers, school counselors, nurses, and librarians? How about some funding for our after-school tutoring programs we had to cut? And early childhood education? Maybe SPP should stand for Stupid Public Policy.”

And she adds: “I worry that SPP will just replace AYP: with more high-stakes-testing, more labeling-and-punishing schools, more blaming teachers, and still no results for our kids.”

I don’t understand this story.

It says that “civil rights groups” demand that Arne Duncan turn down a request for a waiver from a group of districts in California.

Since high-stakes testing invariably ends up with poor and minority kids at the bottom of the bell curve, it is hard for me to understand why civil rights groups would demand more of it.

Since accountability typically means that schools enrolling the neediest kids get closed, why would civil rights groups want more of it?

Since high stakes accountability invariably means that those who teach the most vulnerable children are likely to be fired, why would civil rights groups want more of it?

One possible answer to the puzzle is that Democrats for Education Reform is listed as a “civil rights group.” DFER is an organization created by Wall Street hedge fund managers to promote more charter schools and more testing (but not necessarily for those who teach in charter schools). Just recently, the California Democratic Party singled out DFER and StudentsFirst as fronts for Republicans and corporations.

Maybe this letter to Duncan is DFER’s revenge on California. (DFER recommended Duncan to Obama for his job as Secretary of Education.)

Some 20 years ago, I worked as Assistant Secretary of Education in the administration of President George Herbert Walker Bush.

I was in charge of the Office of Educational Research and Improvement and also Counselor to the Secretary of Education, who was Lamar Alexander.

Secretary Alexander took a big risk with me because I was a Democrat with no prior experience in government.

I developed great admiration for him as a thinker and leader. He understood the limits of federalism and he was always careful not to use the power of the federal government to force states or localities to do what he or his party wanted.

Now he is a Senator and is the ranking Republican member of the Senate committee that oversees the Department of Education.

At hearings about the NCLB waivers last week, he expressed puzzlement that state officials want Washington to tie their hands and give them mandates.

This was the most interesting exchange, as reported in the New York Times:

At a Senate education committee hearing on Thursday to discusswaivers to states on some provisions of the law, Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, forcefully urged the federal government to get out of the way.

“We only give you 10 percent of your money,” said Mr. Alexander, pressing John B. King Jr., the education commissioner for New York State. “Why do I have to come from the mountains of Tennessee to tell New York that’s good for you?”

Dr. King argued that the federal government needed to set “a few clear, bright-line parameters” to protect students, especially vulnerable groups among the poor, minorities and the disabled.

“It’s important to set the right floor around accountability,” Dr. King said.

Now, here is the question: Why does New York State Commissioner John King fear that children who are poor, minorities, and the disabled will be neglected by his state if the federal government doesn’t demand higher test scores from them?

Does he fear that the New York Board of Regents will abandon these children?

Will Commissioner King abandon them if the federal government retreats from its unrealistic expectation that 100% of them must be proficient on state tests?

Why does he want a federal law to force him to do what he wants to do anyway?

Reading this exchange, I am reminded of Lamar Alexander’s down-home wisdom.

Please, Lamar, repeal the accountability provisions of NCLB. Restore federalism. Stop the assault on state and local control of education.

Compel the U.S. Department of Education to do what it is supposed to do by law: to protect the rights of children; to distribute federal funds where they are needed most; to collect information and conduct impartial research on the condition of American education.

And to stop imposing failed ideas on the nation’s public schools.

The waivers offered to states by Arne Duncan removed the NCLB deadline of 2014, in exchange for states agreeing to accept punitive mandates and loss of state and local control.

The waivers took the heat off Congress to repeal NCLB. NCLB is a train-wreck. By removing the deadline, Congress can now tinker around the edges. The punishments, the firings, the school closings, the toxic testing–goes on. Thanks, Arne.

From Wendy Lecker in Connecticut, civil rights lawyer and fighter for equity:

“The waiver mandates increase the over-emphasis on standardized tests. They require implementing a teacher evaluation based in significant part on standardized test scores- for every teacher; in every grade and subject. They require impementation of the Common Core State Standards, and the computerized standardized tests that are the main feature of CCSS. They continue to base school and district performance on standardized test scores. To move away from the obsession with standardized tests, don’t look to the “waivers” for help.”

NCLB is a disaster. The absurd idea that 100% of all students would be proficient simply by testing them every year and firing their teachers and principals and closing their schools is now exposed as a great fantasy.

Do waivers help? Or are they just another way to fasten the federal noose and pave the way for privatization?

This reader reflects:

“As a mother, educator and someone who worked on a state waiver for NCLB, I often felt like I was doing the devil’s work. I do NOT agree with standardized testing as the primary measure of a school, student, or teachers effectiveness. I also know that the NCLB rules of 100% of all students performing on grade level by 2014 was wildly unrealistic. Sadly what I have discovered is, at least in my state of Maine, there is a sense of hopelessness & helplessness among educators with regard to their ability to impact any of this. I disagree. It’s time that teachers make their voices heard, and take back the reigns of their profession. Which is the exact reason why I elected to get involved in the NCLB waiver process in my state. It was a glimmer of hope that perhaps all of this hoopla over standardized testing would be diminished over time.”

As the politicians and bureaucrats debate how to recalibrate their ideas about reforming the nation’s schools, it’s a good time to read what a teacher wrote about what Washington is doing to them. Maybe some thoughtful person could enter this into the record of the NCLB hearings. Is there no one in Congress who hears the voices of educators? Why don’t they invite real teachers, real principals, and real superintendents to testify instead of DC think tanks and state commissioners?

Heather wrote the following:

I am a teacher because of the love I had for school. I loved my teachers. I loved having fun while learning. I loved the interaction with my peers. I felt safe and successful at school…even when I made mistakes.

Politics and non-educators have changed our schools. They have turned them into businesses focused only on numbers and status. They have taken away the human component. Instead of teachers focusing on the well-being of the children, we have teachers forced to shove massive amounts of information down the throats of children who actually need love and nurturing. They have taken away the time to incorporate fun that kids need in order to develop a love for learning. Instead of doing all we can for our kids, we are told not to touch them…They are children. They need hugs and pats on the back. They need to know that it is okay to show affection and that there is an appropriate way to show it.

The kids aren’t the only ones affected by the decisions of these people who have never stepped into a classroom. The teachers are being stifled. They are feeling that their only purpose is to cram as much information into these children as possible. The teachers are beginning to crack under the pressure. They are criticized and made to feel that their opinions and professional knowledge are worth nothing.

These non-educators should step into a classroom. They would see the child who dominates the class time with their rude insolent behavior. They would see the child who crawls on the floor and cowers in the coat cubbies. They would see the kids who come in without breakfast or clean clothes. They would see the kids who crave attention and stand as close to the teacher as possible. They would see the tears and anxiety as the teacher plows through lessons.

Then let’s have these “experts” visit with parents who do not have a moment to spend with their kids but feel that it is all the teacher’s fault when their child misbehaves or earns poor grades. They should see the disrespectful manner in which some parents speak to the teachers…and that the teachers are instructed to “just take it”.

The paperwork and class interruptions should be the next on their list of observations. They should see that while there is a planning time it is often taken away due to parent meetings,team meetings,assemblies,and paperwork.

They should stay with the teachers until the teachers have completely stopped working for the day. This would involve them heading home with the teacher and managing a household while continuing their work for school.

Maybe after a visit with the kids and teachers, they would see that they have it all wrong. Schools are not all about numbers…schools are for the heart of the kids. Schools are meant to instill a love of learning that will last for life.

Until this happens, I fear that our schools will continue their journey of dehumanization.


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