Skeptics said there was no way Washington could win money in the Race to the Top competition because it doesn’t allow charter schools.
They were right. That gap in the state’s application for a $250 million federal grant doomed the state from the start.
But concluding that the game was fixed against one of the few states that don’t allow autonomous charter schools misses a much bigger, much more disturbing point.
In score sheets released last week, the five reviewers who judged the state’s application found it lacking not just in charter schools but in category after category.
With scores ranging from 251 to 342 out of 500 possible points, Washington placed 32nd out of 36 applicants.
Concluded one reviewer: “A key concern is whether the applicant has the statewide capacity and the political and bureaucratic will” to implement its reform agenda.
And this: “Overall, the state has demonstrated relatively meager improved student outcomes overall and by subgroup since 2003. The state’s analysis of the underlying reasons for these disappointing student outcomes, despite a decade of previous education reforms, is sparse and weak.”
And this from another reviewer: “At a time and in a state whose economy requires a highly educated work force, the state’s education system is not producing nearly enough graduates who meet this label.”
One saw more talk than action in the state’s reform plan: “Many of the sections within the grant application involve creating workgroups, committees, or other planning bodies, but little information is provided about implementing actual plans.”
The reviewers were mostly unimpressed with the state’s recently adopted teacher evaluation system. The state will require districts to have four-tier review systems (i.e. unsatisfactory, needs improvement, meets standards, exceeds standards) and demand that weak teachers be targeted for improvement or dismissal. But sanctions apply to new teachers only.
And each district is allowed to bargain its own system with unions. Only later might the state arrive at one or more evaluation systems and require their adoption.
The state told the feds it used this scattered approach because teachers and some legislators preferred it, leading one reviewer to write: “That is not a sufficient or compelling reason given that the likely results will be a high level of inconsistency among (school districts), a difficult if not impossible job for state monitors, and a continuation of the less than effective instruction the state’s students currently receive.”
The state’s biggest flaw is the use of student growth data in teacher evaluations and the lack of any consequences for poor evaluations.
The state is “completely silent on the issue of compensating, promoting and retaining teachers and principals on the basis of evaluations where student growth data is a significant factor,” wrote one reviewer.
Added another: “The state response … is to convene a state-level group of stake holders who will ‘analyze’ matters pertaining to employment decisions and due process. … In short, the group is not asked to deliver anything specific and there are no deadlines.”
One dubbed it “one of the weakest areas of the application,” and another suggested the state “may have misunderstood the requirement.”
The other major gap is the state’s failure to make sure it has competent teachers and that the best ones are fairly distributed among poor and wealthy schools.
“The plan falls short, overall, in explaining how Washington would increase the supply and availability of effective teachers as required by the criterion,” concluded one reviewer.
The weaknesses can’t be a surprise. All were identified last winter by critics of the bill that was passed last session to firm up the state’s application. Yet all were rejected in the name of passing a bill that would win teachers union supp-ort.
Despite that, one judge worried that even this weak plan might be blocked: “Union support may be an issue in parts of the state and impede implementation.”
What will the state do now with a reform plan judged inadequate? According to the governor, the schools chief and legislative leaders, no changes are planned. Washington will stay the course.
Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/politics