Thursday, April 24, 2014

Duncan Breaks Up With WA

In a move that just underlines how deeply bizarre the relationship has become between Arne Duncan, King of All Schools, and the previously-sovereign states, Arne today pulled the rug out from under Washington state, sending them tumbling toward a bureaucratic limbo that...well, at the very least, will be interesting.

The Dear John letter is trim and bureaucratic. I'll offer a translation into Plain English.

Graph 1: I got your formal request for yet another extension. In good standardized test style, I will recycle your prompt into my topic sentence. Thank you for playing. Thank you for sucking up by telling me how great our work was in helping your kids.

Graph 2: "As you know," your waiver was based on your willingness to follow our instructions. You have failed to do so, so now your "flexibility" (which is our favored code word for waiver) is at an end. I'll throw in the word "regret" because I hear frowny emoticons are inappropriate for official letters.

Graph 3: One of the promises you made (just like all the other boys and girls in class) was to evaluate your teachers and principals based on the Common Core tests (no, of course he didn't use those words-- he used the whole CCR standards etc etc-- I'm translating). It was going to be sweet, with "robust, timely, and meaningful feedback" (which is what I'm pretty sure nobody anywhere using the fed-required system is getting). And he said this: "Including student learning growth as a significant factor among the multiple measures used to determine performance levels is important as an objective measure to differentiate among teachers and principals who have made significantly different contributions to student learning growth and closing achievement gaps." And wow-- that's completely unsubstantiated, but there's federal stuff on the stationary so it must be trues!

Graph 4: I'm going to recap the timeline now. Not sure why-- we all know what happened and when-- but I guess I need it for the record. Anyway, you double-pinky swore on this date and then promised again on another date and now you're obviously not going to get it done in time. Also "I recognize that requiring the use of statewide assessments to measure student learning growth requires a legislative change, and that Governor Inslee and your office worked diligently to obtain that change. I thank you for your leadership and courage in those efforts." So, I recognize you got hammered politically. I'm not mad at you-- just your stupid doody-head legislators who don't seem to understand that I am their boss. Thanks for trying. Heckuva job, Dorny.

Graph 5: Thanks for trying, but you failed, so it sucks to be you. This will cost you money. But hey-- if you ever get some political heft behind you again, feel free to re-apply for flexibility.

Graph 6: In a masterpiece of bureaucratic understatement, Duncan opens this graph with- I appreciate that transitioning back to NCLB is not desirable, and will not be simple. Attached is a list of all the laws you are now breaking as of next fall. Asst Secretary Deborah Delisle has the thankless task of taking your phone calls begging for help with damage control, because whenever you call, I'm going to be "out of the office."

Graph 7: "Thank you again for your leadership and your efforts to keep the commitments Washington made in its ESEA flexibility request. Thank you, as well, for your continued focus on enhancing education for all of Washington’s children." See ya. Wouldn't wanna be ya!

So, to quickly recap. Washington got to ignore its violation of federal NCLB laws if they agreed to install Duncan's own untried, untested, unproven, unsubstantiated but very specific prescriptions about how to use CCSS tests to evaluate teachers and principals. Which, when you take a step back and look at it, is really ballsy! And now, having once arbitrarily extended his deadline, Duncan has arbitrarily decided not to, and so--snap--just like that, the law that Congress passed is now in effect again! It's like magic! I don't know if this is how laws are made, but I suspect it's a good way to make libertarians.

This can only get better, because it reminds me of a story about some laws and how they work. I will tell you that story in the next paragraph, if you want to skip it.

Years ago, I was president of a striking union in PA. At the time, the law said the school year must be finished by a specific date, and therefor the strike could not go past a certain date. Both we and the administration were unsure of exactly which date that might be, so we called Harrsiburg to find out. And what we found out was that although this law was on the books, nobody knew how it would be enforced, or who would be responsible for enforcing it. We literally could not find a single person in Harrisburg who would take responsibility for what the law meant or what would happen to the teachers and district if we somehow broke it. And that, boys and girls, is how laws work some times.

I have to say this again, because we already know it, but this little event puts it back out in plain sight. Duncan doesn't just believe that CCSS test-based measures of teachers and principals are a good idea. He doesn't just deny every stone on the mountain made out of evidence that he's wrong. He has given CCSS test-based measurement the full weight of federal law.

So what will happen to Washington, and who will do it? Or will the legislators freak out and panic, installing Arne's junk science system at the 11th hour to win back his Kingly affection? You can bet a few other states will be watching (as Rick Hess notes in his fine commentary today, Washington's probably not the only state not living up to the letter of their waiver)-- how much do they need to fear a hissy fit from the King of All Schools?


  1. OMG paragraph 3. What the BLOODY HELL?

    "And he said this: "Including student learning growth as a significant factor among the multiple measures used to determine performance levels is important as an objective measure to differentiate among teachers and principals who have made significantly different contributions to student learning growth and closing achievement gaps."

    So Arne really is claiming to be able to figure out who is contributing to the growth, stagnance or decline of a child's scores and then to hold them accountable? He is completely crazy. And he's coming after principals, as well as teachers.

    Arne is coming after principals, as well as teachers, with pistols blazing and we'd better get out of the way of his lasso and his bullets.

    Or, alternately, we can turn around and stampede :)

  2. Now is the time for every Stop CCSS Warrior to contact their Senators and Congressional rep and demand the repeal of 20 U.S. Code § 7861 - Waivers of statutory and regulatory requirements

    1. May I repost this to my Facebook page?

    2. Of course...BTW...this is Christine Zirkelbach, who remembers all the pseudonyms....I have been posting this since last night.

    3. I don't understand the "waiver" thing. I see that they can waive certain requirements, but can they legally require new conditions in exchange and if so, where is this in code? Isn't that allowing a Federal agency to write laws, an authority delegated to Congress?

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  4. And this

    The identical bill to this in the Senate is S. 1974

  5. Perhaps worth noting that CA received a waiver despite holding out against Duncan on this issue. I didn't read the waiver letter, but read reports that Duncan justified the move by praising our state's support for CCSS. Looks to me like the administration could be playing favorites. Democrats raise a TON of money in California, by the way. Perhaps Duncan basically caved in to avoid pissing off California, and then had to look tough on Washington.

    1. You don't mean to suggest that this whole business involves decisions based on political considerations rather than educational ones?!?! I am shocked, shocked, I tell you!