Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda sent out an email this morning to all teachers, principals, and staff in the district—and to the Seattle delegation in Olympia—outlining the consequences for Seattle schools if the legislature fails to bring current teacher evaluation standards in accordance with federal guidelines.
The feds—specifically, President Obama's Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who met with Gov. Jay Inslee earlier this month—say Washington state must include statewide student testing results as one element in its teacher evaluations; current state law says statewide testing results "can" be a factor. Without the change, the feds say, Washington state won't get a temporary waiver from federal education goals and would stand to lose $38 million in district money that currently goes directly to classroom programs for low-income and low-performing kids (those in so-called Title 1 schools). The money would be redirected to private tutor programs and transportation (to better-performing schools.)
Banda, quantifying the hit to Seattle schools, writes: "Without [the waiver], Seattle Public Schools would have to redirect 30 percent of our ... grant budget. That’s a total of $2.8 million."
The legislation, which could shore up the waiver, has a tortured history: It was initially sponsored by Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe (D-1, Bothell), but she ended up opposing it, arguing that U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) could convince the feds to give Washington state the waiver instead. McAuliffe had come around to the teachers' union position that local standards, not statewide tests, should determine the results of evaluations, and that recent evaluation reforms had just been put into place and should be given a chance. Her arguments carried the day and a version of her original bill, sponsored by state Sen. Steve Litzow (R-41, Mercer Island), flamed out without Democratic support.
But after the Sen. Murray route fizzled and Duncan met with Inslee, telling him the change was necessary, two new bills emerged.
1) The senate version, sponsored by Litzow's moderate Eastside Republican cohort, Sen. Andy Hill (R-45, Redmond), would make the "can" to "must" change. Sen. Hill passed the bill out of his ways and means committee on Monday—Republicans in support, Democrats against—and it's now in the rules committee waiting to make it to the floor.
2) The Democratic house version, sponsored by Rep. Pat Sullivan (D-47, Covington) and supported by Inslee, also makes the change, but delays it until the 2017-18 school year and stipulates that the change is null and void if the feds don't grant the waiver. However, even with those nods to the union's concerns, the bill isn't moving in the Democratic house.
Banda wrote today:
Without the NCLB waiver, the impact to Seattle Public Schools includes:
• An immediate reduction in classroom coaches and curriculum specialists who work in literacy and math at all grade levels in the district
• Schools receiving Title I funds will need to reduce the intervention supports that are provided to those students below grade level in both reading and math
• Title I schools will need to reduce or eliminate academic extended day programs
• Funds available for supplemental intervention materials would be reduced or eliminated
• Funds for early learning would be significantly decreased
It's worth noting that the Seattle Schools teacher contract bargained in 2010 already mandates that data from the statewide end-of-the-year student test must be a part of teacher evaluations. The federal money comes through the state, though, and without a statewide change, SPS would still lose their portion.
However, Rich Wood, the spokesman for Washington Education Association (the teachers' union), says: "For every Banda, there are two or three other superintendents who oppose the bills." Wood forwarded along several letters—from the super of the Shoreline District, from the super of the Snohomish District, and from the super of the Stanwood-Camano District—opposing the change.
William Mester, the Snohomish superintendent, for example, wrote to state superintendent Randy Dorn and OSPI in February:
These new tests assess only a narrow slice of what is taught in any given year and are limited according to OSPI’s own analysis to the professional context of no more than 16 percent of all educators. The results of these tests are not timely for instruction and can not be used to attribute any performance to any particular educator. While these tests may provide feedback on a narrow aspect of what a student might have learned, they can not determine why a particular student did or did not learn or who is responsible what did or did not happen. These tests can not be used to help educators grow or improve as they provide absolutely no feedback about the specific attributes of classroom practice.
WEA's Wood adds: "Teachers vehemently oppose this legislation because it has nothing to do with helping them or their students, and it has everything do to with politics, partisan Washington D.C. gridlock, and a lack of leadership from our state superintendent of public instruction. Instead of passing education policy that has no basis in research, we think the legislature should focus on its paramount duty and fully fund what will actually benefit students—like smaller class sizes."
The legislature came up about $100 million short on class size funding under the standards of the McCleary decision in their 2013-15 budget ($103.6 million vs. $219 million).
However, there are a couple of efforts to fund reductions in class sizes this year: The Democrats want to close $100 million in tax breaks and put some of the new revenue toward class-size reduction; there's a bill that that takes about $97 million away from some K-12 instructional programming and puts it toward class size reductions instead; and there's a bill to fund classroom construction—to accommodate smaller class sizes—with $700 million in bonds backed with state lottery money.