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Washington State Loses Waiver

The Federal Department of Education is pulling Washington State’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver because the state has not fulfilled the department’s requirements for reform, mainly linking teacher evaluations to student performance.

Washington State Superintendent Randy Dorn blames the teacher’s unions because they “felt it was more important to protect their members than agree to that change and pressured the Legislature not to act.” Kim Mean, president of the Washington Education Association, argues that the removal of the waiver is due to a failed federal policy rather than failure within the school system.

In its waiver application, Washington committed to making significant student growth in teacher and principal evaluations by the 2014-15 school year, which would only be possible with legislative reform. Current legislation states that Washington schools can choose to use classroom, district or statewide tests to tie student growth to teacher evaluations. Dorn and Washington Governor Jay Inslee proposed a bill earlier this year that proposed the use of statewide tests in teacher evaluations, but asked the Federal Department of Education to delay the requirement until 2017.

Now with the loss of the waiver, local districts will likely be required to spend their federal Title I funds on private tutoring services for at-risk students and professional development and training for teachers. Washington will have less flexibility when choosing what schools to directly fund with federal money. Also, the revocation of the waiver means that nearly all Washington schools will be labeled as failing under NCLB.

Washington State is now preparing a list of schools with especially low-test scores and wide achievement gaps. Once the list is formalized, those “priority” schools will hopefully receive state intervention.

Secretary Duncan has stated that if the state pursues reform, he will reconsider the waiver but as of now, Duncan says, “if folks aren’t fulfilling their commitments — I want to absolutely clear so nobody can say they didn’t know or were surprised — I would bet we will have to, as early as this summer, pull at least one if not more waivers.”

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