Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Continuing Education Stories from Seattle and Beyond

The two items I've been tracking are the denial of renewal of the NCLB waiver for Washington State and the SPS math adoption.

Today Secretary Duncan appeared before the U.S. Senate budget committee.  He did get asked about waivers but not by Senator Murray.  From Ed Week:

Unlike late last month, when Duncan faced hostile declarations about his NCLB waiver moves from lawmakers in both the House and the Senate, the only significant exchange Duncan had with the Senate budget committee about waivers was with Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa whose state does not have a waiver from the NCLB law. (Duncan's department rejected Iowa's waiver proposal back in 2012, the first state to be turned down for a waiver.)

If you find that last sentence confusing, Iowa was the first state to get a waiver turned down and Washington was the first state to have a waiver not renewed.

Grassley told Duncan he thought the DOE was being vague on how Iowa should proceed without the waiver.  (Good question for WA state as well.)  Apparently Duncan said that Grassley should ask his state ed department. 

When it was her turn, all Murray said was this:

"I'm very disappointed by the loss of this waiver."

But, she never asked him one question.  Interesting.  

I'm still thinking this waiver loss will end up being a lot of noise that mostly means little.

Here's a very good summary of the issue from a comment at the Seattle Times:

What seems to be lost in this conversation is that the loss of flexibility of the $40 million is only temporary. Districts have to notify parents two times, over two distinct weeks, that they can access the funds for outside tutoring. Most districts do this early in the school year and in December. Then, districts can either send a budget revision to OSPI for approval in January to use the funds for something else, or they can hold onto the money till the next school year, without needing any permission to spend the funds differently. So all this fuss is about a temporary hold on funds. 

One school board member in Lake Stevens didn't mince words in a recent letter he sent to Secretary Duncan.  This would be Microsoft employee/Lake Stevens director David Iseminger (partial):

Since you’re so distant from us – nearly 3,000 miles by one measure – let me tell you about this other Washington: We have strong leadership in our board rooms, schools, and classrooms; we have professional and effective educators; and our students are capable, confident, and work extremely hard. But don’t take my word for it – our SAT scores, among other measures, speak for us.

With input and work from many education advocates, Congress was provided an extensive list of fixes that would make NCLB workable and forward-thinking, and keep us all accountable. I was there too – as a member of the National School Boards Association (NSBA) Federal Relations Network (FRN), I made the trek to Washington D.C. multiple times to ask our members to reauthorize, year after year. While there, many of us from Washington also met with people from your Department of Education, in your building, trying to create relationships and press for a change in policy and tone: stop telling our students and educators they’re failing, I said.

It’s not that I don’t understand your NCLB numbers or metrics. I work in the Business Intelligence group at Microsoft, part of the Cloud + Enterprise Division, so data and analytics is what I do.

And I’ve done the analysis. I’ve weighed the cost of your revoked waiver and considered its benefits, and the conclusion is clear: it’s not worth it.

And then, to my great admiration, Director Iseminger then says:

You can keep the waiver. And regarding your failure letter – I have little interest in using our Lake Stevens letterhead to tell our students and educators they’re failures, because they are not. That letter is the topic of much discussion in our state – including whether we send it at all.

I'll have to ask SPS if there is consideration of not sending letters to SPS parents as well.  I mean, if NCLB hanging in the wind, we've already lost flexibility of the money, what exactly will Duncan do if the districts don't send the "your child's school is failing" letters? 


The irony is not lost on me: you revoked our waiver because we didn’t pass a law that you wanted. If you’re not sure what to do with our education-related failure letter, I know 536 folks in Washington, D.C. who seem pretty deserving right now.

Writer Rick Hess said it well in his column, Duncan's Trip Down the Waiver Rabbit Hole where he points out that rather than Duncan truly working with Congress to get NCLB overhauled, Duncan went on his merry way with RttT and SIG using them as weapons. 

Instead, Duncan opted to gut NCLB by waiving key parts of the law for states that promised to do stuff he likes; his problem is that he has no authority to enforce the whims that he's substituted for statute. If you read Duncan's letter yanking Washington's waiver, the casus belli was the failure of the state's legislature to pass a law Duncan had demanded. However, Duncan has no legal basis to give orders to Washington's legislature (nowhere does NCLB empower Duncan to tell states how to design teacher evaluation).

Laws that have been passed by Congress have muscle, funding, and legitimacy. Duncan's freelancing does not.

Also to the point:

Of course, it's a safe bet that every state is currently violating some part of its waiver.

Probably true.

On the math adoption, I'm going to need to start a list of all the questions now popping up.  Hoping Rick, who served on the math adoption committee, can weigh in but here's a few items.

1) Apparently at Director McLaren's community meeting last night, there were parents from Schmitz Park and K-5 STEM who were concerned over math issues.  It turns out that SP has been raising $40K a year for the last five years to support their Singapore math curriculum.  (I believe the district kicked in last year.) 

Again, we see the funding-raising disparities in PTAs continue and now it's quite clear academics are being directly affected. 

2) So now that a new math curriculum is likely to be adopted, will the district continue to grant math waivers to schools?  I believe a school has to apply each year but it would seem if a different math curriculum is firmly in place at a school, it would be hard to dislodge it (unless it could not be used to meet Common Core math standards).

3)  But I'm also hearing that Director McLaren, in a briefing by Teaching & Learning, was told the scores from schools with math waivers are not really as good as has been stated.  I'll have to ask about that soon and again, will that impact schools who currently have waivers? 


mirmac1 said...

In case you want to drop Senator "I'm soooo disappointed" Murray a line, here's the link to do so:

I feel your pain.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, I took that line as "disappointed but so what" but that's just me.

Anonymous said...

David Inseminger's 'professional-speak' letter will be easily understood by the DOE as: Take Your Waiver Process and Shove It.

Glad he was so clear. Randy Dorn could take a lesson in both wording and message. Dorn is part of the problem, not the solution.

I've started a countdown to the end of Duncan's Reign of Error and plan to vote against Dorn at the next available opportunity.


Melissa Westbrook said...

DW, that's exactly what I thought when I read it - very polite but yes, "shove it."

I'm with you on Dorn; I just don't remember him like this during the campaign.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I also see that the Times, who are just on this mantra of "get the waiver" in their op-eds, don't even have a story about the letter to Duncan from Iseminger even though it has received national press.

I did a search at the Times and I don't see it.

mirmac1 said...

Iseminger should publish his letter as a guest editorial, assuming ST would print it...

Anonymous said...

@ Melissa: You didn't see Dorn like that during the campaign because then he was appealing to state voters but NOW (IMHO)he is trying to cinch his career post-political-office. Much better to align with the national state of the state for that. Washington can't offer him much else, unless it's some professorship, and his 'going soft' on Duncan won't hurt him with the majority of WA colleges anyhow.

IMHO also see former SPS boardmember Sundquist and current boardmember HMM for similar behavior patterns.


Anonymous said...

So we have schools like SP raising additional PTA funds to buy "good math" for their schools, while, as I've seen in my own kids' schools, stacks and stacks of discovery math materials sit unopened on the shelves.

Granted my evidence is anecdotal, but couldn't and shouldn't those wasted dollars be put to better use? Aren't we spending math dollars twice at schools with waivers? I've never read, heard, or seen a reduction in textbook orders based on a few thousand kids with waivers not needing them. Anyone know what the story is there?


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