It’s the state’s responsibility to ensure schools have the funds they need.
THE debate around linking teacher evaluations to student test scores has again ignited passion from education advocates across the state.
On one side are those whose experience tells them that schools spend too much time testing kids and that test scores are a poor measure of good teaching. On the other are those who believe we cannot pass up control of around $40 million in Title I federal funds meant to benefit poor and high-risk students. We think both sides are right.
We also think this noisy argument has diverted attention from the truly important challenge facing the Legislature: the need for a substantial increase in state support for K-12 education to pay for smaller class sizes, higher teacher salaries and all-day kindergarten.
To win support for that funding, we Democrats will need to engage the Republicans — and taxpayers — in a very serious conversation about additional revenue. And for that conversation to be successful, we must eliminate the unproductive and distracting conversation about Washington’s No Child Left Behind waiver.
Last year, when loss of the waiver was merely a threat from the U.S. Department of Education, we had hoped that this would be worked out: Washington would keep its waiver, and even if it did not, the loss of flexibility in spending the Title I money would have no effect on local districts.
Unfortunately, none of that proved to be true. Washington state lost its waiver and the $40 million in Title I money has since been used in ways that are neither efficient nor productive.
The federal government bears responsibility for withholding the waiver, but at the end of the day it’s our responsibility at the state level to ensure our students have the funds they need.
In Seattle alone, more than $1 million has been spent this year on private tutors in a very uneven way. Fewer than 500 kids have received services out of an eligible population of more than 20,000. The remaining funds will now be released to the district, which will have to scramble to find ways to use the money before the end of the school year.
We each have four children in or about to enter the public schools. We not only value the critical role our kids’ teachers play, we fully appreciate the anxiety they feel about ESSB 5748, which passed the state Senate earlier this month. However, we amended this bill on the floor of the Senate to address many of the concerns voiced by teachers. So let’s make sure everyone understands what the amended bill does and doesn’t do.
First, the bill would not go into effect until the 2017-18 school year.
Second, even more importantly, the weight placed on test scores would be the subject of local collective bargaining. Seattle and other local school districts have already collectively bargained percentages at 1 percent of an evaluation or lower, so we believe this measure would ensure the proper weighting of state tests.
Third, no particular assessment may be used for evaluation purposes unless the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has determined “that the relevant assessment meets professionally accepted standards for being a valid and reliable tool for measuring student growth.”
What this means for Seattle and many other schools is that no changes are required to the current collectively bargained evaluation process. None. And in return for the modest changes the bill makes in districts that have not yet taken this step, Washington would again qualify for the waiver and restore local control of around $40 million.
This is why we voted to support the bill. We think it was the right decision for our students. It was the right decision for our schools. And it was the right decision for our state.