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.
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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.