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April 28, 2014 at 6:45 AM

Update: Newspaper editorials lambaste Washington lawmakers for loss of No Child Left Behind waiver

After U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced he would end Washington state’s waiver under the No Child Left Behind Act, newspaper editorial boards across the state expressed exasperation at the failure of lawmakers to save it. The result is state school districts will lose control of around $40 million in federal funds for struggling students.

In our Sunday editorial, The Seattle Times editorial board urged the state’s elected leaders to reconsider their decision not to make a simple change in state law requiring student’s scores on statewide tests to be included in teacher evaluations. A Senate bill would have made that change without prescribing how much of a weight they should be given, leaving it up to the districts. Despite support from Gov. Jay Inslee and Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn, the bill was voted down, largely because of pressure from the Washington Education Association (WEA).

If enough lawmakers agree to make the change, a special session of the Legislature could be called. Duncan signaled he would reconsider his decision.

Most newspapers hit the same themes as The Times in strong language — The News Tribune referred to lawmakers’ lack of a backbone, while The Herald of Everett found fault with the larger law, not lawmakers.

The News Tribune, in an editorial, entitled “Students pay price for lawmakers spinelessness,” notes that Tacoma had used its $2 million in question to add preschool to five elementary schools and academic coaching at all low-income schools.

State lawmakers had plenty of time to make the minor change to state law on evaluation criteria – essentially involving changing the word “may” to “must.” But they caved to pressure from the powerful state teachers union and adjourned in March without taking action. The union did what unions are supposed to do: protect their members’ interests. It was the legislators’ failure that they couldn’t muster the backbone to act.

The News Tribune’s columnist Peter Callaghan, in his column, called the issue a “big battle over a small issue. Too bad it has massive consequences.”

Across the state, the Spokesman-Review editorial took a similar, dim view of lawmaker inaction.

(Gov. Jay Inslee and Superintendent Randy) Dorn were concerned enough about losing the waiver that they broke with the WEA. Too few legislators showed the same courage. Perhaps by the time a new Legislature meets in January, the consequences of fealty to the teachers union rather than students and parents will have changed a few minds.

The Yakima Herald editorial listed the effects on the school districts in the Yakima Valley. Yakima School District will lose control of $1.5 million in federal funds; Sunnyside, $766,000; Wapato, $443,000; Toppenish, $394,000; Grandview, $294,000; Granger, $273,000; Ellensburg, $139,000; and Mabton, $120,000. The editorial warned of further reaching impacts.

No one knows exactly how this will play out, but it’s not likely to be good news for job security for teachers and staff in our state’s schools — a situation enabled by a union leadership that purports to protect jobs.

The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, in its editorial, noted the imperfections of the No Child Left Behind Law, but said lawmakers should be pragmatic and find a way to restore district control over the federal funds.

Yet, the federal government has inserted itself into education by using money as a carrot to entice states into accepting federal mandates. Since money is desperately needed for education, this has become the norm in public education across America.
Protests on principle have their place, but given the high stakes here, this is not one of those places.

Lawmakers can still fix this problem by mustering the votes to pass the simple change to the law. Then the governor could call a special session. Duncan said he was willing to reconsider.

UPDATE: The Herald of Everett editorial, published Monday, found fault with the choice before the state because of the No Child Left Behind Law, which expired in 2007 and not renewed.

It’s more nuanced than a teachers-union uprising against a culture of standardized testing. The required use of poorly vetted tests to measure student achievement and linking those results to teacher performance is unworkable over the short term, however much it creates the illusion of accountability.

UPDATE: Also Monday, The Tri-City Herald editorial board gave a “thumbs down” to legislators for not passing the legislative remedy.

Teachers fought against the requirement because evaluations based on standardized tests are unfair to teachers at schools with high levels of poverty and kids still learning English.

It’s a legitimate point, but the federal government didn’t dictate how the tests should be used, only that they be considered during evaluations. Local teacher unions should have negotiated fair ways to use the tests instead of working to block their use across the state.

UPDATE: In a Tuesday Olympian editorial entitled “State rolls dice with child-left-behind waiver”, the editorial board of the state capital’s newspaper weighed in.

Now, students – particularly low-income students – and their families, and school districts must bear this burden because Democrats stood with the union on principle. It was an utter legislative failure.

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