"It's good to be the king."
“It’s good to be the king.”

Most decisions in education these days are based on money or, more specifically, fear of losing money. The situation in Washington state is the perfect example. Their state senate recently voted down a measure to would have required student scores on statewide tests to be part of teacher and principal evaluations. The requirement to do so came from DC as a condition in the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver. The decision to reject the requirement should have been a no brainer.

According to the  General Education Provisions Act (GEPA) the federal government shall not “exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed or published instructional materials by any educational institution or school system…”

Seems like telling the states how they are to evaluate their teachers when making decisions about whether to renew or extend their contracts falls directly under the heading of “control over administration or personnel.” States have the right under GEPA to reject such attempts at control.

But the federal government these days doesn’t seem to pay much mind to the law.  They believe in a nation of men, not laws.

Under NCLB, states were given the goal of making every child proficient at reading and math at grade level by 2014.  That was incredibly poorly written legislation. Four years into that 10 year horizon it became obvious to everyone that no state was going to meet that goal. The correct solution would have been to use the political process to either repeal the bad legislation or amend it.  The truly correct solution would have been the former since the federal government is granted no authority over education in the constitution. That’s where we first stopped paying attention to the law.

Instead, the government came up with the waiver concept which would grant states continued flexibility in how they would use their Title I funds, even if they had not met the 100% proficiency requirement of NCLB. People often forget that NCLB is still the law of the land. Most states are currently operating under these waivers for NCLB compliance. The waivers are handed out like indulgences from the king. So long as you remain in the king’s favor, he will look the other way if you are not completely complying with the law. But what the king giveth, the king can take away. The law is no more supreme. The man is.

Washington state is finding this out. DC was not content with WA law which  already requires that student test scores play a significant role in teacher evaluations. The sticking point is which tests are to be used. WA allowed school districts to choose which tests (school-based, classroom-based, statewide or district-wide) to include in teacher evaluations.  Clearly the federal government believes that the new SBAC tests must be used. DC spent millions on the development of the SBAC tests and they want to make sure those tests get used. Last August they told Washington that their flexibility to choose which tests would jeopardize their waiver status. You see this isn’t about teacher accountability, it’s about making sure the states know who is calling the shots here.

Because the WA senate did not immediately buckle under the pressure of DC,  the U.S. Department of Education has told state officials that the state is now at “high-risk status” of losing its waiver for the coming 2014-15 school year. The king might stop looking the other way. What does this mean for the kids of WA state? It means that the estimated $38 million the state receives from the federal government, which should go towards district programs for poor and disadvantaged students, must now be spent on private tutoring to bring the scores into 100% proficiency. This is unattainable. This is a permanent reduction in federal funds.

What the Washington senate did was the right thing. They stood up for state’s rights. This needs to be followed up by a massive information campaign, delivered by every superintendent in the state, to educate the public about the big bad federal government who is taking away the funds to help the neediest in their population in order to push their own tests and agendas.  The campaign can be kicked off through the compulsory letters that the every district will be required to send home notifying parents that their school district has been labeled “failing” under the federal government’s guidelines.

A classic bully prank is the one where they grab the victim’s own hand to smack them in the face while chanting “Stop hitting yourself.” What the federal government is doing with the NCLB waivers and penalties is the same thing. The states need to yank their hand out of the federal government’s control and stop hitting themselves.

While we fight common core at the state level, we cannot forget the fight that needs to happen in DC to get them out of our local school districts. We can start by demanding that they follow their own laws before they write new ones for us to follow.



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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