Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Competing commitments . . .

Yesterday, John Schuster and I met with the other superintendents and association presidents that form the Center for Collaborative Support (CCS), an organization of five local school systems that formed a number of years ago to identify ways to support each other.  Though there have been common needs, we have struggled identifying structures to provide teachers across the systems with common support.  The exception to this are the Common Core online training opportunities that began last year and continue into this year and before that support provided for new teachers in the professional certification program.

At this meeting one of the topics for discussion was a request to consider writing a joint letter to key legislators currently struggling with the NCLB waiver issue I blogged about many times with latest being this past Monday.  Since that post two bills have emerged, one House Bill 2800 that would require the use of state test scores in teacher evaluation, but delays implementation until the 2017-18 school year.  The second is Senate Bill 5880 that contains the same requirement with implementation in 2014-15.  Similar bills with significantly different impacts making it a much more complex issue for legislators in a short period of time.  This is the same situation that usually results in last minute politicking and bills and/or budgets that surprise us and that result in mandates without the opportunity to engage with legislators around consequences and possible unintended consequences.

The issue is very complex.  Some of the issues resulting in this complexity include the following.

  • If we lose the waiver and districts and buildings are forced to send letters home saying they did not meet the NCLB annual yearly progress it could influence next fall's state elections. 
  • If districts lose control over part of their Title 1 federal funding to outside vendors it could cause the loss of teacher and paraprofessional positions across the state.  
  • The loss of these funds could also then open the door for review and growth of charter schools in the state.  
What for some in the room started as a collaborative effort to influence legislators to not support changes to the evaluation process deteriorated rapidly when superintendents in the room spoke to a position that was forming in our ESD for a letter to the same legislators supporting the House bill.  It emerged for me as a very good example of competing commitments at work.  I shared my struggles with signing a letter of support for either bill because of my personal beliefs and because of the potential negative impact on our system.  When I go to the balcony, however, I can see the bigger picture and how loss of the waiver can have a significant impact on some school systems such as described in this Tacoma News Tribune article and possibly open doors to other negative unintended consequences.

So, once again we are confronted with difficult choices that we must  make as individuals and as representatives of school systems and organizations.  Everyone in that room yesterday is a caring, committed educator from a good school system.  It saddens me that we are placed in this situation by actions from policy makers thousands of miles away who rely on the threat of losing funding to promote their belief in a one size fits all strategy that will not achieve the stated and unstated results of these mandates.

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