We have just received word, that as expected, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is rescinding Washington state's waiver to the ESEA (No Child Left Behind) requirements because our state refused to mandate the use of state standardized tests as part of our teacher evaluation program. I remain proud of WEA and the efforts many of our members put into this issue during the legislative session.
I believe the Washington Legislature did the right thing in rejecting Duncan's inflexible demands that would have done nothing to help Washington's students or their teachers. Instead of fixing a broken federal law, Duncan tried to impose bad policy on our schools. Washington legislators, with your help, stopped him.
We have a nationally recognized teacher evaluation system that is driven by the needs of our students. I commend and thank you for your continuing hard work to implement this rigorous new system which increases accountability and uses student growth data to strengthen your teaching and your students' learning. Isn't that what matters?
Contrary to what has been reported, Washington will not lose federal funding for students in low-income schools. In reality, school districts will temporarily lose some flexibility on how they spend that money. The letter from Duncan to Randy Dorn, OSPI chief, makes this clear: local districts in "Washington must once again set aside 20 percent of their Title 1 funds for public school choice and supplemental educational serves rather than having the flexibility to use those funds for other activities."
Our teachers, students and public schools in Washington are strong, as recognized by Duncan and Dorn:
- In November, Duncan praised Washington students for their performance and progress on national tests, saying he was "extraordinarily proud" of our students' "remarkable progress" and their "improvement in every category."
- Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said, "Our students' high performance … caught the attention of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. He called me, personally, to congratulate our hardworking teachers and principals on a job well done," and, "We also beat the national average in SAT scores. And ACT scores. We must celebrate this success and acknowledge the good work being done in our schools."
- On April 16, Dorn recognized more than 410 schools for their academic success as determined by the ESEA waiver Duncan just rescinded. "These awards represent some of the best," Dorn said. "It's an honor to recognize them and celebrate their success."
- Washington's most needy schools (recipients of federal School Improvement Grants, or SIG) collectively outperformed the 1,400 SIG schools across the nation.
As I consider Secretary Duncan's decision, I can only conclude rescinding the waiver is a failure of federal policy, not of our public schools, students or teachers. If we really want to do what is right by our students, we need to meet our constitutional responsibility to fund K-12 public education in Washington state.
Thank your for your continued dedication on behalf of our students.
Kim Mead, WEA president