The Seattle school district is asking U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to reinstate a waiver from the federal education law that Duncan took away from the state as a whole in April.
Washington became the first state in the country to lose its waiver because it does not mandate the use of student scores on statewide tests as part of a teacher’s evaluation, a condition for keeping it.
Seattle, however, has a unique teacher evaluation system, negotiated with the Seattle Education Association, that the district says meets Duncan’s conditions for keeping the wavier.
The system uses student growth, measured by test scores, in evaluating teachers. But rather than factoring the growth ratings into a teacher’s overall evaluation score, they only come into play if they are very low or very high. Low student growth scores trigger a closer look at a teacher’s performance, and high scores can play a role in career advancement.
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Losing the statewide waiver also meant that Washington lost control over how districts spend part of their share of about $40 million in federal funding to the state, aimed at improving the math and reading abilities of disadvantaged children.
Districts with low-scoring schools such as Seattle will have to set aside 20 percent of their share to pay for individual tutoring from private vendors outside the district — about $2 million in Seattle’s case.
The money also is supposed to cover busing costs for children who want to transfer from a failing school to a nonfailing school, but that likely won’t apply because the state expects almost all Washington schools to be labeled failing this fall.
Seattle school superintendent José Banda is asking for that control back, arguing that Seattle made better use of those funds during the two years under the waiver by providing reading and math help before and after school.
The district could reach about 4,000 kids with those programs, which is more than twice as many as would be served by paying for outside tutors.