Federal government tells Washington State to rewrite its teacher evaluation bill, Part 2
Last week, I wrote that on July 6, the federal government told Washington State to rewrite its teacher evaluation bill, SB 5895, as a condition of extending a one-year waiver from No Child Left Behind rules. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction OSPI disagrees with my characterization of federal requirements. I have posted their characterization below, as requested.
Let’s first consider a theoretical school principal, Mrs. Jones, who leads a middle school of 750 low-income students somewhere in Seattle. She has great teachers who are working hard and getting great results for their students. She will soon be required by SB 5895 rules to fill out 20 pages of a very official-sounding evaluation matrix for each of her 25 teachers.
It is not too hard to imagine that Principal Jones has several teachers whose behavior puts them at risk on three of the eight measures of performance described in SB 5895, as these teachers create their own curricula, rarely collaborate with other teachers, and never communicate with parents or the school community. Yet their students make phenomenal progress, scoring at grade level or higher on the state tests in math, science and reading, can’t wait to get to class every day, and clearly love these nonconformist teachers for showing them how to reach for the sky and get there.
Back to the federal government and the state superintendent’s office. As I said, on July 6, the federal government ordered Washington state to rewrite SB 5895 to make student growth data a “significant part” of teachers’ evaluations:
“Washington must submit to the Department for review and approval an amended request, incorporating: (2) rules regarding the use of student growth as a significant factor in teacher and principal and support systems that Washington’s Teacher and Principal Evaluation Project Steering Committee is expected to recommend by December 2012; and (3) a copy of the amended State statute that requires each focused evaluation to use student growth data (emphasis mine).
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) explains:
"The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) has deliberately remained silent on citing specific numbers when it comes to student growth data as a part of teacher evaluations. In fact, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and the State Board of Education (SBE) have worked collaboratively with DOE, for months, to come to an agreement on the waiver that was issued. At no point were specific numbers recommended as a way to ensure the granting of the waiver.
Washington, like several other states, was granted a one-year conditional waiver. One of the main contingencies, as you state on your blog, is related to teacher/principal evaluations. As a part of the waiver agreement, with the full support of Superintendent Randy Dorn, this law needs to be updated to include student growth data in every evaluation, every year. Teachers will not be able to achieve an overall acceptable rating without meeting student growth goals."
These letters show both federal and state officials are exceeding their authority to implement a federal program already showing failure in Tennessee. As the No Child Left Behind Act makes no mention of teacher evaluations, waivers from its provisions cannot legally include teacher evaluation requirements. See this article. Authority over the evaluation of teachers is not a prerogative the state superintendent of public instruction can rightfully give away. The authority over teacher evaluations is reserved only to local school board directors under Washington law, RCW 28A.150.230. Washington is a local control state when it comes to education.
As Justice Roberts recently said on page 47 of the recent Supreme Court decision upholding the federal Affordable Care Act:
“Congress may use its spending power to create incentives for States to act in accordance with federal policies. But when ‘pressure turns into compulsion,’ ibid., the legislation runs contrary to our system of federalism. ‘The Constitution simply does not give Congress the authority to require the States to regulate.’ New York, 505 U.S., at 178.”
He also said on page 49:
“...we look to the States to defend their prerogatives by adopting ‘the simple expedient of not yielding’ to federal blandishments when they do not want to embrace the federal policies as their own. Massachusetts v. Mellon, 262 U.S. 447, 482 (1923). The States are separate and independent sovereigns. Sometimes they have to act like it.”
Principal Jones and her 750 students, imaginary or real, need champions in the state legislature who will give her more autonomy, not less, from the interference of federal and state officials. Principal Jones is in the best position to fairly evaluate and reward her teachers. Don't tell her how to do her job. Allow her to choose and pay her teachers, create her program, control her budget. Then hold her accountable for student achievement. That is how to improve the schools.