NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Washington should follow California’s lead and resist flawed federal education demands

Next week Wash­ing­ton Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee will meet with U.S. Edu­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Arne Dun­can to dis­cuss the state’s waiv­er from the require­ments of the failed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Last year Dun­can’s depart­ment threat­ened to revoke the waiv­er unless the state leg­is­la­ture man­dat­ed that dis­tricts include stu­dent test scores in teacher eval­u­a­tions. Cur­rent­ly dis­tricts have flex­i­bil­i­ty on how to define “stu­dent growth” mea­sure­ments and can refuse to base teacher eval­u­a­tions on test scores — which is a good move for teacher morale and ensures com­pre­hen­sive, qual­i­ty instruc­tion for our students.

The Inslee-Dun­can meet­ing was caused by the State Sen­ate’s wise rejec­tion of a bill that would link scores to eval­u­a­tions. Sev­en Repub­li­cans joined the Democ­rats in vot­ing down SB 5246, buck­ing their cau­cus to side with a grow­ing nation­al revolt against the cul­ture of stan­dard­ized testing.

But before Gov­er­nor Inslee meets with Sec­re­tary Dun­can, he should place a call to his col­league in Cal­i­for­nia. Gov­er­nor Jer­ry Brown and the state leg­is­la­ture faced a sim­i­lar threat from Dun­can, who vowed to revoke the NCLB waiv­er and take back mil­lions in fed­er­al fund­ing from Cal­i­for­nia schools. Cal­i­for­nia reject­ed the demand and so far, Dun­can has not fol­lowed through on his threat.

The sit­u­a­tion in Cal­i­for­nia was sim­i­lar, though not pre­cise­ly the same, as in Wash­ing­ton State. Cal­i­for­nia is mov­ing to a new statewide stan­dard­ized test­ing sys­tem aligned with the Com­mon Core cur­ricu­lum. That sys­tem will not be ready until the 2014–15 school year. It made no sense for the state to force teach­ers to give stu­dents the now obso­lete STAR test. So the Cal­i­for­nia Leg­is­la­ture adopt­ed AB 484 to sus­pend STAR tests for the 2013–14 year.

Sec­re­tary Dun­can spoke out against this bill, but Gov­er­nor Brown was not moved:

Jim Evans, a spokesman for Brown, said Tues­day in a state­ment, “We sup­port the legislation.”

“There is no rea­son to dou­ble-test stu­dents using out­dat­ed, inef­fec­tive stan­dards dis­con­nect­ed from what’s taught in the class­room,” Evans added.

Cal­i­for­ni­a’s Super­in­ten­dent of Pub­lic Instruc­tion Tom Tor­lak­son rose to defend Cal­i­for­ni­a’s abil­i­ty to make its own laws regard­ing stu­dent assessments:

“I’m dis­ap­point­ed some­one in Wash­ing­ton would want to inter­fere in the leg­isla­tive process in Cal­i­for­nia,” Tor­lak­son told The Bee.

Cal­i­for­nia and Wash­ing­ton are not the only states push­ing back against fed­er­al edu­ca­tion man­dates. New York is press­ing the pause but­ton on the Com­mon Core stan­dards man­dat­ed by the U.S. Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion. The back­lash to these man­dates is bipar­ti­san and spans the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum.

States are tra­di­tion­al­ly lab­o­ra­to­ries of inno­va­tion. Wash­ing­ton State has inno­vat­ed a sen­si­ble approach to teacher eval­u­a­tion that is a fair com­pro­mise between many of the dif­fer­ent posi­tions in the debate. No par­ent wants their child’s edu­ca­tion to be focused sole­ly on test scores. Nor do they want their child’s cur­ricu­lum to be nar­rowed to exclude sub­jects that aren’t on stan­dard­ized tests. Wash­ing­ton should con­tin­ue down its own path, rather than have to give in to a fed­er­al man­date that will lead schools to teach to the test rather than teach to the child.

Gov­er­nor Inslee should stand firm in his meet­ing with Sec­re­tary Dun­can in defense of Wash­ing­ton’s inno­v­a­tive mod­el. He should enlist sup­port from his fel­low gov­er­nor in Sacra­men­to, and from oth­ers around the coun­try who are grow­ing con­cerned at a lack of col­lab­o­ra­tion and an unwill­ing­ness to respect local con­trol on the part of the U.S. Depart­ment of Education.

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