While the education reform bill that passed in Olympia this session did gesture toward some of the Race to the Top goals like giving the state authority to intervene in failing schools; approving of alternative paths to teacher certification; extending teacher tenure from two years to three; and creating a new teacher and principal evaluation systems (like a four-tiered rating system instead of simply good or bad—and lowering the legal standard for getting rid of delinquent principles), it did not radically alter the teacher evaluation system—as Obama wants—by tracking evaluations to student data. Nor did it embrace charter schools, another Obama standard.
Chris Korsmo, executive director of the Washington League of Education Voters—which had pushed for stronger reforms—released a statement this morning:
“While we’ve made progress, today’s announcement underscores the fact that Washington still has a lot of work to do to be competitive in the U.S.—let alone the rest of the world. Right now, we’re coming up short. We need a robust plan to ensure our kids receive the rigor and support they need to get into and through college, and to help catch up the students who are behind.”
Democrats in Olympia shrunk away from Republican amendments to upgrade the evaluation standards this year. Indeed, the politics on Obama's push for education reform are odd in Washington state with Democrats, aligning themselves with the Washington Education Association (the teachers union) going against Obama's agenda and the GOP all for it.
The WEA opposed the evaluation amendments because, they argue, the changes would have created a "one-size-fits all" scorecard rather than a district-by-district model.
$250 million annually was at stake.
The Democrats did buck the WEA in 2009, supporting a more general education reform bill which expanded the definition of basic education and upped graduation requirments. Ironically, the GOP was against that one.
WEA president Mary Lindquist issued a statement on today's news:
Even though we recognize the importance of these federal dollars in the current economy, we -- as educators -- do not approve of the underlying competitive nature of the Race to the Top. While state governments are forced to cut deeply into education spending, pitting one state, one district or one school against another is the wrong approach. The role of the federal government should be to promote equitable access to a quality education for all students.
Given the circumstances we find ourselves in, I am proud of the voice educators and WEA had on our state's proposal. The emphasis on local decision-making is critical. I appreciate the local leaders who decided with their districts that our state's proposal fit their students' needs. I also appreciate the decision of other local leaders who, after careful consideration, believed their circumstances did not warrant joining the application.