Federal government repeats demand that Washington rewrite its teacher/principal evaluation bill

August 16, 2013

Yesterday, the news broke that the U.S. Department of Education meant what it said last summer, when it told Washington state to rewrite its teacher/principal evaluation bill, SB 5896. Because lawmakers did not do so, the federal government has now declared Washington’s one-year waiver from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements at “high risk” of not being renewed. 

I said it last summer, and I’ll say it again.  The federal government has a lot of nerve. 

Here is a very short recap. Last summer, on July 6, 2012, the U.S. Secretary of Education wrote the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Randy Dorn, saying that Washington’s one-year waiver from NCLB requirements was conditional on seeking legislative changes to "make student learning data a significant part of teacher evaluations."  I wrote about this here, here and in Crosscut here.  

Now the feds are raising other problems with the bill, as The News Tribune explains here.  They are giving Washington until May 2014 to "resolve these problems," saying they are going to be doing monthly check-ins on Washington.  

The best reaction to all this is in the WSJ, which quotes Alan Burke, Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction. He said "...sometimes the mechanics and complexities of the waivers, plus the hundreds of pages and hours spent on all this, is maddening."

I am with Alan.  There is no logic to any of this.  It reminds me of Alice in Wonderland running down the Rabbit Hole. Already early evidence from Tennessee shows this top-down effort to evaluate teachers and principals is not working.

Let's try to think this through, from our perspective, over 3,000 miles away from the offices of the U.S. Department of Education. 

First, the U.S. Department of Education has no authority to impose new rules and requirements on the states through No Child Left Behind waivers. A waiver is “the act of intentionally relinquishing or abandoning a known right, claim, or privilege.” NCLB's provisions are being waived, yes. But issuing a waiver does not allow the feds to impose a new rule or requirement.   

Second, the No Child Left Behind law has nothing to do with teacher evaluations. It has everything to do with student testing.  The U.S. Department of Education is in effect circumventing Congress by imposing federal teacher/principal evaluation laws on the states through these “waivers,” which are actually new rules. Legal experts have pointed out that this is illegal and unconstitutional.  See this article.   

Finally, under Washington law, authority over evaluating teachers and principals is reserved only to local school board directors and their agents in the schools, under Washington law, RCW 28A.150.230.  The superintendent of public instruction and state lawmakers cannot rightfully hand over to the federal government this responsibility. Doing so violates state law. And the U.S. Constitution’s Tenth Amendment clearly reserves to the states those powers not expressly delegated to the federal government under the Constitution. 

Ultimately, the real accountability for improving Washington's schools lies with parents, teachers and administrators in the local schools. It will not help the local school to let the feds decide how to evaluate teachers and principals. That responsibility is ours, not theirs.   


He who pays the piper calls the tune

The federal government provides critical support to schools across the country. They had long done this without many strings attached. Then they changed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to include No Child Left Behind. This change in the law set absolutely absurd and unachievable standards for schools and districts to meet by 2014. The 100% competency standard was never realistic. Schools and districts, of course, couldn't begin to meet it, so, in the tradition of public K-12 education they sought and received "waivers".

The waivers replaced the old ridiculous rules with a new set of ridiculous rules. All of the ridiculous rules should be rejected.

This is all about the quest for "accountability" in education, and it is going to fail, just like previous efforts to gain accountability in education have failed and for all of the same reasons. The accountability isn't being applied at the point of responsibility.


I didn't know about the Robert's opinion. Seems a fantastic rebuke of federal over-reach that's been needed for a very long time. And it seems to strike at the core of much of the Obama admin tactics on a range of subjects.