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Washington’s No Child Left Behind waiver has been revoked as a result of the state legislature not approving changes to teacher evaluations in order to stay in compliance with federal requirements.
The loss of the waiver means that districts will no longer have control over how $38 million dollars of federal education funding will be spent. Governor Jay Inslee said public schools will definitely feel the impact of the lost funding, and that it could mean layoffs.
Ann Dornfeld, education reporter of KUOW, part of the Here & Now Contributors Network, speaks to Robin Young about the state’s decision to not comply with federal standards and the impact it will have on schools.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
Well, let's go now to Washington state, which is now the first state to have its No Child Left Behind waiver revoked. The waivers were issued to 42 states and the District of Columbia after a general agreement that the federal law was flawed, and another education policy would be enacted by the Obama administration. But yesterday Education Secretary Arne Duncan revoked the waiver in Washington state, saying conditions for keeping it weren't met.
With the loss of the waiver, districts lose control of how $38 million in federal education funding is spent, and the schools will be considered failing. Let's explain. Ann Dornfeld is education reporter for KUOW, part of the HERE AND NOW contributors network in Seattle. And Ann, briefly tell us, why did Secretary Duncan revoke the waiver?
ANN DORNFELD: Well, those No Child Left Behind waivers came with strings attached. One was that states had to sign on to the Common Core State Standards, and another was that they had to tie student test scores to teacher evaluations. Now currently Washington requires that student growth be linked to those evaluations, but the state leaves it up to districts to decide how that student growth is measured.
YOUNG: And so some...
DORNFELD: Duncan said that's not good enough, it has to be test scores, and the legislature didn't change the law to fit the federal mandate, so he told Washington state that there will not be another waiver next school year.
YOUNG: Instead in Washington state, each district can choose whether to include these state and local tests in the evaluation. Well, there's a lot of finger-pointing. Critics of the teachers union say this is their fault. The union did not want the test scores included in their evaluations. The teachers say including test scores is not good policy. This is a familiar debate outside of Washington state.
So remind us: Why don't teachers want student test scores in their evaluations?
DORNFELD: Well, a lot of studies have shown that student test scores are not actually a good way to measure teacher effectiveness. And if you remember back to your statistics class, if there is too much noise in a dataset, it's not statistically valid. And that's actually what a lot of mathematicians tend to say is the case when you try to use student test scores to show teacher effectiveness.
But, you know, there was also some Republican opposition late in the session. The Democrats tended to be listening to the teachers union arguments. But on the right, some considered this a states' rights issue, and they resented what they considered a federal power grab.
YOUNG: So we had different arguments, and we should say across the country there are teachers who are worried that if they happen to have the poorer students or the students who don't have parents who have tutors, those test scores will reflect that and, you know, and their evaluations. But now what's the impact of the removal of this waiver? The way we are understanding this, under No Child Left Behind, 100 percent of kids had to pass math and reading tests by this year, 2014. The waiver in effect said they didn't, although they had to cut the gap in failing kids by 2017.
So we're understanding that yesterday when Washington state lost that waiver, even schools that might have had, you know, 99 percent passing grades are now considered failing because they're back under No Child Left Behind.
DORNFELD: Right. And of course I don't think most of us would consider those schools as failing, and it's generally accepted by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, even by Arne Duncan, that No Child Left Behind is a broken law that really needs to be reauthorized. It was due to be reauthorized in 2007, and seven years later, Congress has kind of punted, and the law hasn't been changed.
So this was kind of a stopgap measure, the waiver system. And...
YOUNG: But we're reading - go ahead, yeah.
DORNFELD: So what's going to happen is parents are going to be getting letters this fall saying that in almost every district, their child's school is failing, and it's really questionable whether parents are going to take that as the - they're going to take that with a grain of salt that I think many will.
YOUNG: Well, but we're reading not a single school in the state will be considered passing because not one has that 100 percent requirement under No Child Left Behind. So those letters are going to be upsetting, we're sure. But what about the money? What did the state get to spend it on before? And now that they've lost control, what they might be ordered to spend these federal funds on?
DORNFELD: Right, low-income schools are able to spend the Title I dollars under the waiver on different measures that they thought would be useful in boosting student achievement. So some were spending it on, say, instructional coaches, teacher training, things like that. And now they'll be required to spend it on things like private-company tutoring for students in those schools, for the at-risk students, or for busing students to schools that - if your school is deemed failing, then you may choose to go to a different school that is not deemed failing or any school in the district, and the district would have to pay for that busing.
YOUNG: Well, you know, your governor, Jay Inslee, released a statement yesterday after the waiver loss announcement, saying without this $38 million spent in the way the state wants it, they're going to have the potential of having to lay off people. For instance, I'm assuming if they wanted to have pre-kindergarten, and now the money is being shifted, maybe there are some people who had worked there who might lose jobs.
But meanwhile, just give us a sense, Ann. Washington state, we don't think failing schools when we think Washington state. You say that they're going to be taking this with a grain of salt, but what are people saying to this new?
DORNFELD: Well, there is concern that some people may lose faith in the public school system, but others are going to say this is just evidence that No Child Left Behind doesn't work and doesn't really mean much in this case.
YOUNG: Well, and in fact that's what the Obama administration says, as well. They're coming up with new policies. But meanwhile, Washington state has had their waiver from the No Child Left Behind requirements revoked, and we'll watch as this story plays out. Ann Dornfeld, education reporter for KUOW there in Seattle, thank you so much.
DORNFELD: My pleasure.
YOUNG: And you're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.