Thursday, September 23, 2021

Wash. becomes 1st state to lose its NCLB waiver


US Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent a letter to Randy Dorn, the superintendent of public instruction in Washington, advising him that the state would lose the waiver it had been granted from certain requirements of the No Child Left Behind law. As a result, about $38 million in Title I funds will be diverted away from programs that help low-income schoolchildren in the state’s poorest schools and toward private tutoring programs.

School districts will also have to set aside an additional 10 percent of their Title I funds—roughly $19 million annually statewide—to pay for teacher training, the Olympian reports.

Gov Jay Inslee called Mr Duncan’s decision “disappointing but not unexpected”: “Loss of that funding means those districts now face potential impacts that could include laying off some of Washington’s tremendous teachers or cutting back on programs that serve at-risk students,” he said in a statement. “I hope districts will work to mitigate impacts on students. I know that despite this setback Washington teachers remain fully committed to serving our students.”

According to the US Department of Education, 43 states (now 42), the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico are approved for waivers from some of the most onerous parts of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, last modified in 2001 as part of President George W Bush’s No Child Left Behind program. The law requires schools to achieve certain targets of student performance, based on standardized tests in reading and math, and all schools were required to have 100 percent of students reading and doing math at grade level by this school year.

Needless to say, hardly any schools in Washington will meet the target, meaning most of them will be categorized as failing under NCLB.

“No state met the deadline,” education historian Diane Ravitch explains. “If the law remains in effect (it was supposed to be reauthorized in 2007, but gets extended year after year), every state would be declared a failed state, and virtually every public school in the United States would be closed or privatized or suffer some other sanction for failing to meet an impossible goal.”

That designation of “failure,” under NCLB, triggers several interventions, including the aforementioned private tutoring and teacher training. This is how NCLB kills schools: it takes money away from Title I programs that at least try to narrow the rich-poor achievement gap and directs that money toward private enterprises, such as tutoring companies. Failing schools are required to provide tutoring for students at the school district’s expense.

Is the federal government too powerful in education?

This action also has the appearance of asserting the force of federal law on a sovereign state’s school systems, action the executive branch in which Mr Duncan finds himself has every right to undertake. However, he himself has said NCLB is a failure, but now it seems the administration is looking to start enforcing it once again, just because a state legislature failed to write into statute one of Mr Duncan’s favorite reforms. It seems capricious to grant a reprieve last time the state failed to act and not grant one this time—wrong and against the grain of states’ rights.

What we need to do is change this law. Acting under color of law, Mr Duncan is depriving students in Washington of the education the state’s elected officials have decided to provide for them. Change this law, please, now.

In the meantime, I will close with words from Ms Ravitch’s blog: “I hope that the state of Washington sues the Secretary of Education and helps him learn about federalism and about the importance of evidence in policymaking.”

Go Washington!! The $38 million may not be that much money—it may be less than the state spends on standardized tests in total, although we’re not talking about getting rid of all tests—but the state’s Title I programs and the kids they serve deserve their day in court. Congress seems unready to act, and the administration seems to be moving in the wrong direction, which leaves the judiciary.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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