The waivers are running out! The waivers are running out! The current administration is sounding the alarm and encouraging its Department of Education to issue more long lasting waivers for NCLB (because that is an expired piece of legislation that needs life support. Wrong.)

The Huffington Post reported that the Obama administration has issued guidance to the DoEd that the new waivers states can apply for, since their old waivers are expiring, should last into 2018-19, well past the tenure of this administration.

In the waivers, states must continue to prove to the federal government that they are producing a specific outcome for all students – the opportunity and academic readiness to enter college or some vaguely defined career. They also have to prove that they are holding the teachers 100% accountable for student success by tying student test scores to teacher evaluations.  States must also demonstrate that they are implementing common standards and focusing on growth.

Secretary Duncan provided details of the administration’s expectations at a meeting of the Council of Chief State School Officers in California yesterday. This news was not met with thunderous applause by everyone. NEA and AFT continue to voice their opposition to the heavy reliance on standardized testing. Even NCLB’s original supporters are beginning to have second thoughts about the heavy handed approach of this administration which seems reluctant if not defiant in recognizing that even some of the lowest performing schools have made tremendous advances in recent years.

HP interviewed Kati Haycock, the director of EdTrust, who sings from the same hymnal that Duncan does. “A school could keep its A rating even if achievement among black students were going down,” Haycock told The Huffington Post. “That didn’t seem like an A school to me. The [new] guidance says to states, that’s not OK.”  The achievement of black students is going down, especially under common core aligned curriculum. The gap is widening in many states. Good reason to double down on the standards implementation, don’t you think? From the New York Times:

Chrystina Russell, principal of Global Technology Preparatory in East Harlem, said she did not know what she would tell parents, who will receive scores for their children in late August. At her middle school, which serves a large population of students from poor families, 7 percent of students were rated proficient in English, and 10 percent in math. Last year, those numbers were 33 percent and 46 percent, respectively.

“Now we’re going to come out and tell everybody that they’ve accomplished nothing this year and we’ve been pedaling backward?” Ms. Russell said. “It’s depressing.”

But don;t worry. The DoED will provide more flexibility in the waivers this time. Rep. George Miller (D – California) said, “This [more flexibility in the waivers] is important, but only a first step in ensuring that the civil rights of our most underserved populations are upheld.” He ignores the fact that we have been providing an education for everyone for  decades which is a civil right and instead declares a new civil right, a right to  a proficient score on a standardized test.  “The real test for equity will come in how states propose to address current shortfalls in their systems, what the Department of Education approves and how they both monitor the impact on students.”  He declares a new federal responsibility, one not enumerated in the US Constitution, the right to approve (or not approve) the decisions of the states when it comes to  education. This is still the perspective of those who believe that the federal government has a right to be all knowing and is all powerful in changing outcomes of individuals.

Well, if we can create rights and responsibilities simply by declaring them, then I believe the American people need to begin declaring some new (and strangely familiar) responsibilities of the federal government as well.

We, the United States of America, require the federal government prove to us that;

  • all federal employees show up for their jobs at least 90% of the time because data shows that people who show up for the job are better able to do that job than those who don’t,
  • all federal employees are able to pass standardized tests that require them to problem solve when responding to a real world citizen complaint, not just hide behind nonsensical, poorly worded or conflicting federal regulations,
  • Agency or Department directors are of consistent quality, dispersed evenly between departments and that they are held accountable to the states (who give them money) for the performance of every single employee under their direction.
  • We require the federal government have to prove to the states that they can improve employee performance for each and every employee, every year regardless or race, gender, creed, pay grade or previous training. That means that high performing employees must be shown to be improving every single year and low performing employees are at least brought up to median level performance within three years.
  • All federal employees will be required to take and score proficient on the SBAC or PARCC test. There can be no exceptions or opt outs for this requirement, even if previous test scores were at or above proficient, or if the job does not require that level of academic proficiency.  After all if every child should be able to do this, so should any federal employee.
  • And if these metrics are not met, we the American people expect serious departmental reform to take place, perhaps with every employee being fired and being required to reapply for their job (after passing the SBAC or PARCC test of course).
  • We expect data to be collected on their progress in meeting these goals, with individual employee data trackable to their immediate director, reported to the American public. Our researchers will have access to this data and will make policy recommendations based on it.

This is not that unreasonable a request. After all, Washington receives ALL of its funding from the people of the 50 United States. It owes the same accountability to its funding source as the states owe to DC for the minimal education funding they send our way. If these expectations about teachers, students and schools are so logical and reasonable for the education of young children, surely they are reasonable for the people who are intent on controlling every aspect of our lives.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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