Last week my school district sent out letters to every family in our school, informing them that our school is failing. This week we learned that fourteen of our students will be going to a different school. One that isn’t failing.
I can’t tell you how upsetting this is. I have worked at Lynnwood Elementary for the past 25 years and it’s become part of my soul. I have worked with an entire generation of that neighborhood and now I’m beginning to work with the children of former students. In fact, one of my former students is now a teacher at my school. We have nearly 600 wonderful, diverse students from all over the world, taught by a faculty of bright, caring professionals, dedicated to their work. Although we have plenty of room for improvement, ours is not a failing school by any stretch of the imagination.
To be told by someone in Washington DC who has never set foot in my school that we’re failing is about the most ridiculous characterization I can think of. We’re not alone, of course; over 90% of the schools in our state are “failing.”
In 2002 George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) into law. This was a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which previously gave states and districts block grants with which they could fund special education and other programs designed for at-risk students. NCLB was supposed to make schools more accountable for student learning; they had to make steady progress over the course of the next twelve years, culminating in 2014 – last year – at which point every kid in every school in America was supposed to be performing at grade level or risk sanctions.
That goal, of course, was preposterous. When President Obama took office there was some talk about rewriting the law so that it made sense. That talk didn’t go anywhere. Consequently, the Obama administration decided to use the threat of NCLB and its sanctions as leverage for certain education reforms by granting “waivers” from the law to those states that complied. One of those reforms was the use of student test scores as part of teacher evaluations.
The Washington State Legislature decided not to go along with that particular “reform.” So the feds revoked our waiver, which means that we’re still bound by NCLB. And since it’s now 2014 and since some of our kids failed to meet standard on the last standardized test, our school is classified as “failing.”
What makes this particularly stupid in the case of our school is that the scores used are actually two years old; we piloted the new SBAC last year (tied to the Common Core) and therefore our scores weren’t even recorded.
So here we are. The letters went out, parents read them and some decided to pull their kids out of our school and have them bused – at the school district’s expense – to the nearest “not failing” school.
What happens next? I can think of five possibilities, presented in the order of least likelihood:
1. Congress rewrites NCLB/ESEA so that it makes sense and actually serves at-risk students by providing financial support to their schools. This is obviously the best solution. It’s also the least likely to happen.
2. Every student suddenly performs at grade level. This is, of course, also highly unlikely. The only reason I didn’t put it first is because our students, their parents and their teachers are at least trying to make it happen, whereas the people charged with rewriting NCLB/ESEA aren’t.
3. The Federal Department of Education decides they’ve made their point and reinstates Washington State’s waiver. There’s actually been movement in this direction, but I get the sense that they’ve chosen to make an example of our state, especially because of the role that our teacher’s union played in swaying the legislature. But it could happen.
4. Our legislature decides to change our teacher evaluation system to include student test scores. Although the WEA will put up a strong fight, this could also actually happen. Our evaluation system won’t be as accurate or as meaningful as it is now, but at least we’ll be waived of NCLB’s sanctions.
5. Nothing. This is probably what will happen. Congress won’t act. Our students will improve, but they won’t all pass their state tests. The feds won’t back down. Our legislature won’t change the evaluation system.
And my school will still be “failing.”