During the 2014 legislative session, the Washington Education Association (WEA) managed to persuade key state Senate Democrats (some of whom had even sponsored the legislation) to back out of a bi-partisan agreement to implement a small change to the teacher-evaluation system. The change would have allowed Washington State to qualify for the federal waiver system to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law.
Unfortunately, the small change of replacing the word “shall” to “must” in state law regarding the use of statewide academic tests as a factor in the teacher-evaluation system met with the extreme displeasure of the WEA. And, Democrats all too willingly catered to the WEA’s whims. Washington State became the first and only state to lose its federal waiver.
As a result, Washington State schools lost control of nearly $40 million in federal funds—usually designated to helping low-income children—and parents across the state began receiving letters notifying them that the schools their children attend are failing. The New York Times reported that “nearly nine in 10 Washington State public schools, including some high-achieving campuses in the state’s most moneyed communities, have been relegated to a federal blacklist of failure, requiring them to set aside 20 percent of their federal funding for private tutoring or to transport students to schools not on the failing list, if parents wish.”
After Washington State lost its federal waiver, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told state lawmakers that the waiver would be re-issued if state law is changed to include statewide academic tests as a factor in the teacher-evaluation system. Two bills were introduced in the state Senate in attempt to do just that.
Senate Bill 5748 and Senate Bill 5749 would both authorize the use of teacher and principal evaluations in school personnel decisions during the 2016-17 school year. In turn, Washington State would regain the federal waiver.
Of course, the WEA is mounting a full-fledged opposition to the bills. The WEA argues that tests cannot be used to give a proper evaluation of teacher performance. Really, it’s just another attempt to evade accountability.
Testing results are not the only means by which teachers would be evaluated. The federal requirements seek to use academic tests as a small part of “information school districts use to evaluate teachers and principals.” Moreover, the use of testing data for teacher evaluations has strong public support—a recent poll found 70 percent of voters support using statewide academic tests as part of the evaluation process.
The WEA has made its intentions clear, it will continue placing its own interests ahead of children. Will Democrats continue to follow the WEA’s lead?