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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.

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

School districts across Washington State lead a revolt against failed federal policies

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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One Comment

  1. Arne Dun­can, please resign. You’ve done enough dam­age to Amer­i­ca’s pub­lic schools as it is. 

    # by Kelle Mayer :: September 16th, 2014 at 10:55 PM
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