California favoring teachers over kids

The U.S. Department of Education rejecting California’s request for a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act should come as no surprise. Despite acknowledging in a Dec. 21 letter that “California is obligated to follow current laws and regulations to ensure continued access” to $353 million in federal funding, the state Board of Education gets an “F” for effort.

Mike Kirst, president of the state Board of Education, told the San Jose Mercury News that California’s refusal to include student test scores as part of teachers’ evaluations was the reason the waiver request tanked.

Without the waiver, 4,492 California schools not in compliance with the federal program have to tell parents that they have the option of transferring their child to another school and have to use 20 percent of certain federal funds to pay for tutoring and the transportation of those students who opt to transfer.

With the waiver, the state could use the federal funds in the ways that best serve the low-performing schools.
But hey, this is all better than using standardized test scores as part of teacher evaluations, right?

California law currently requires that pupil progress be a part of teacher evaluations, but how to measure that progress is left up to each district, and how to use those measurements in evaluations is the subject of union negotiations.

Earlier this year, in the case of Doe v. Deasy, a judge ruled that the Los Angeles Unified School District has created a system that essentially leaves student progress out of teacher evaluations.

Recognizing this legal argument over including test scores as evaluative criteria, the Association of California School Administrators wrote a letter begging the state Board of Education to at least offer to “adopt voluntary state guidelines for evaluations while pursuing a legislative remedy.”

The letter also pointed out that the initial waiver request was so utterly devoid of detail and accountability metrics that it “is too weak for serious consideration by federal officials.”

But the state made none of the association’s recommended changes and instead submitted a three-page request that did not even mention evaluations. In doing so, it completely bypassed the rigorous formal system developed by the feds. By way of comparison, Arizona’s waiver request was more than 180 pages long, and Georgia’s was more than 150 pages.

Both were granted.

Instead, California (and only California) tried to get cute and rely on a catch-all provision that allows the secretary to grant a waiver if the state can show its plans will improve the quality of instruction and academic achievement for students.

California’s flimsy request was submitted in June, and — having not received a ruling — on Dec. 21 the state board released an update characterizing the federal requirements as “unrealistic expectations” and “unrealistic goals, labeling and programmatic burdens.”

The letter stated that California’s plans are “more meaningful and more inclusive than the current federal accountability standard.”

That same day, the waiver was denied.

Melissa Griffin’s column runs each Thursday and Sunday. She also appears Mondays in “Mornings with Melissa” at  6:45 a.m. on KPIX (Ch. 5). Email her at mgriffin@sfexaminer.com.

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