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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

August 7, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Should state sue Arne Duncan to get No Child waiver back?

Bill Keim

Bill Keim

The executive director of the association that represents Washington school superintendents says Washington state should challenge the revocation of the state’s waiver from the No Child Left Behind law in federal court.

In April, Washington became the first state in the country to lose its waiver when state lawmakers decided against mandating the use of state test scores in teacher evaluations.

In his group’s August newsletter, Executive Director Bill Keim tells the members of the Washington Association of School Administrators that he’s long been concerned about the “unfettered federal intervention into what used to be the states’ domain — operating our public schools.”

Which is why Keim likes the idea of challenging the waiver revocation in federal court, an idea floated last month by Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy group based in Washington D.C.

Petrilli argues that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan does not have the authority to set conditions for waivers, such as the teacher-evaluation requirement, that are beyond the scope of the federal education law.

He has the right to offer greater flexibility to the states when it comes to the law’s ‘adequate yearly progress’ measures and other parts of its accountability system. What he has no constitutional right to do is dream up new mandates out of thin air and make flexibility contingent upon their embrace by supplicant states.

The Seattle school district last month asked the feds to reinstate the waiver for its own schools, arguing that its unique teacher evaluation system, negotiated with the Seattle Education Association, meets Duncan’s conditions.

The district hopes to get an answer before Aug. 20, the date it plans to mail letters to parents informing them their children attend failing schools, which is among the consequences of losing the waiver.

In the meantime, Washington and other states are preparing to send those letters, which will have to cover some federally mandated information about the test scores. But the letters also may include some frank commentary from the states about why they’re sending them in the first place.

One of Washington’s proposed letters, for example, states: “Because Congress can’t agree about how to fix this failed policy, our kids are once again caught in a system of requirements that fall short of supporting real learning.”

The state of Vermont, which decided not to seek a No Child Left Behind waiver, is even more blunt. Its secretary of education sent a letter Wednesday that states: “The Vermont Agency of Education does not agree with this federal policy, nor do we agree that all of our schools are low performing.”

What do you think about Keim’s suggestion? Weigh in in the poll below, and share your thoughts in the comments section.

Comments | More in News | Topics: Bill Keim, No Child Left Behind, teacher evaluation

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