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Education Lab Blog

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

August 13, 2014 at 11:52 AM

Districts protest: Our schools aren’t failing

Because most Washington school districts don’t have 100 percent of their students passing state math and reading tests, the federal No Child Left Behind law says they must send letters to families explaining why.

But the districts don’t have to like it and 28 school superintendents have jointly written a second letter they will send along with the first, which explains why they think their schools are doing much better than the No Child letters make it seem.

“Some of our state’s and districts’ most successful and highly recognized schools are now being labeled ‘failing’ by an antiquated law that most educators and elected officials — as well as the U.S. Department of Education — acknowledge isn’t working,” the cover letter states.

The letter is signed by John Welch, Superintendent of the Puget Sound Educational Service District, which represents the 28 districts.

Those districts include Auburn, Bellevue, Federal Way, Highline, Issaquah, Kent, Lake Washington, Northshore, Renton, Shoreline, Tacoma and Tukwila.

They announced the protest letter at an event on Wednesday.

The federal education law, also known as No Child Left Behind, is long overdue for a rewrite in the U.S. Congress, where Republicans and Democrats agree that it’s not working, but disagree about how to fix it.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration granted most states a waiver from some of its requirements in exchange for adopting certain reforms, including the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations, a move some think should be challenged in federal court.

Washington became the first state in the country to lose its waiver in April because it does not mandate districts to use student scores as part of judging how well teachers are doing their jobs. That meant that the letters, which Washington schools  haven’t had to send for a few years, now must go to parents.

The federal government has said that it’s important to notify parents about the reasons a school is judged sub par, what it’s doing to improve and how parents can get involved. Some schools will be required to notify parents if their children are eligible for outside tutoring.

Seattle, which did not sign the joint letter, is seeking reinstatement of the waiver for its own schools, arguing that its unique teacher evaluation system, negotiated with the teachers’ union, meets the federal requirements.

“We are still waiting to hear about our waiver request and didn’t think it was appropriate for us to sign on with the other districts at this point,” said district spokeswoman Lesley Rogers. “We certainly support the sentiments in the letter.”

The letters must be sent 14 days before school starts, which means Kent will be sending them out on Thursday and including the joint cover letter.

“While we are required to do this, our school district and our schools are not failing,” said Kent superintendent Edward Lee Vargas. “What we really need is for Congress to act to reauthorize this bill. It’s out of date and imposing this requirement is really unfair to the community and the hard work of our teachers and parents and administrators.”

If you were in charge of crafting a letter to parents about the loss of the No Child Left Behind waiver, what would it say? Tell us in the comments section.

Comments | More in News, Seattle Public Schools | Topics: NCLB waiver, No Child Left Behind, Puget Sound Educational Service District

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