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.