At least 28 school dis­tricts in Wash­ing­ton State have cho­sen to fight back against U.S. Edu­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Arne Dun­can’s demand that they label suc­cess­ful schools as “fail­ures” due to a law backed by George W. Bush. When the state leg­is­la­ture refused to tie teacher eval­u­a­tions to test scores, Dun­can revoked the state’s waiv­er from Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. The law requires all stu­dents in a school to reach a cer­tain lev­el of per­for­mance on a stan­dard­ized test, and if even a sin­gle stu­dent does­n’t meet the mark, the entire school is labeled a failure.

Dun­can required that school dis­tricts send let­ters to par­ents explain­ing that their child’s school was a “fail­ure” accord­ing to this extreme­ly nar­row and mis­lead­ing met­ric. But the 28 school dis­tricts have decid­ed to fol­low Ver­mon­t’s lead and send their own let­ter along with the fed­er­al­ly man­dat­ed let­ter, explain­ing that these schools are not actu­al­ly failures:

But as those let­ters go out, many Puget Sound dis­tricts – includ­ing Taco­ma – will also be telling par­ents that No Child Left Behind is “regres­sive and puni­tive,” and that their schools aren’t fail­ing at all.…

“Some of our state’s and dis­tricts’ most suc­cess­ful and high­ly rec­og­nized schools are now being labeled ‘fail­ing’ by an anti­quat­ed law that most edu­ca­tors and elect­ed offi­cials – as well as the U.S. Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion – acknowl­edges isn’t work­ing,” the super­in­ten­dents’ let­ter says.

“Our bot­tom line: Your child’s school dis­trict is effec­tive­ly address­ing the needs of all stu­dents,” the cov­er let­ter reads.

The let­ter does not quite go as far as Ver­mon­t’s did, as it does not include a broad-based attack on stan­dard­ized test­ing. But it’s a good start, as it sig­nals Wash­ing­ton State schools will not sim­ply roll over to Dun­can’s threats, as he hoped they would.

In fact, Dun­can’s demand is caus­ing the revolt against teach-to-the-test poli­cies to spread. Dan­ny West­neat, a Seat­tle Times colum­nist who usu­al­ly has his fin­ger on the pulse of pub­lic opin­ion, wrote an extra­or­di­nary col­umn applaud­ing the 28 school dis­tricts and pre­dict­ing an out­right “revolt” against fed­er­al edu­ca­tion policies:

That edu­ca­tors now must send out a mil­lion let­ters to fam­i­lies here telling them that all of the state’s K‑12 schools are fail­ing has got to be the low­est point yet in the dri­ve to reform pub­lic education.

It’s def­i­nite­ly the most absurd point. But maybe it’s also a turn­ing point.…

How are you sup­posed to react, as a par­ent, upon receiv­ing such a letter?

Many will ignore it (though at some schools they’ll be offer­ing free pri­vate tutor­ing, so take advan­tage of that). Oth­ers may blame the state for not going along with a fed­er­al require­ment to link test scores to teacher eval­u­a­tions. But oth­ers may decide they’ve had enough of this fed­er­al “testoc­ra­cy” once and for all.

West­neat quotes two lead­ing edu­ca­tion advo­cates, Rep. Chris Reyk­dal and Garfield High School teacher Jesse Hagopi­an, explain­ing how resis­tance to Dun­can is a turn­ing point:

“This is a big moment in the nation’s his­to­ry,” lefty state leg­is­la­tor Chris Reyk­dal, D‑Tumwater, pre­dict­ed recent­ly. “Our state is embrac­ing our con­sti­tu­tion­al Tenth Amend­ment guar­an­tee to admin­is­ter our state’s edu­ca­tion sys­tem. I strong­ly encour­age fed­er­al offi­cials to get back to empow­er­ing the states instead of coerc­ing them.”

Garfield High School his­to­ry teacher Jesse Hagopi­an was blunter: “(Sec­re­tary of Edu­ca­tion) Arne Dun­can has labeled my school — and every school in Wash­ing­ton State — a fail­ure. Cue the revolt.”

States across Amer­i­ca, red and blue, have been fight­ing back against Dun­can’s flawed, failed poli­cies. Wash­ing­ton is not the only state to lack an NCLB waiv­er, but it is the first state to have its waiv­er revoked. As Wash­ing­ton refus­es to give in to fed­er­al pres­sure, it is giv­ing hope and inspi­ra­tion to oth­er states that are con­sid­er­ing doing the same.

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