Sunday, May 4, 2014

Not worth it . . .

I must once again post about our state's loss of the NCLB waiver to share the letter below written by a Lake Steven's School Board member, David Iseminger, to Secretary Duncan.   I came across it in an article by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post.  He does an excellent job of letting the Secretary know what he and many of us feel about the recent decision to pull the waiver.  I applaud him and welcome the conversation that comes from his letter around how we will respond in August to the requirement to send the "failure" letter required in the NCLB sanctions.  Perhaps it is time to once again push back. Would the Secretary take the step to withhold funding if districts didn't send the letter required by legislation that the he has called flawed?

Many thanks for Iseminger's leadership with this letter and for setting the stage for how we should respond to the bullying from Washington D.C.  His conclusion that the waiver is not worth it is one that should be echoed by all of us as we join WSSDA in pushing our legislators in Washington D.C. to replace this broken legislation with a model that supports learning and growth and one that can support achievement gains for all students.

Though not the norm for me, I will share the entire letter as Strauss did in her article.

April 29, 2014
Dear Secretary Duncan,
Last week you revoked Washington State’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver, resulting in nearly every school in Washington being considered failing by your Department of Education. This summer, as a School Board Director in Lake Stevens, WA, you’re requiring I send a “failure letter” to parents of any school that receives your funding.
Your reason for revoking our waiver: we didn’t pass legislation you wanted. More precisely, we passed legislation, but it didn’t have the wording (actually, one specific word) you wanted.
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.
When NCLB was passed twelve years ago, it focused America’s resolve to elevate our children and our future. It was about accountability, about setting lofty and worthwhile goals, but it was also about believing in our educators, leaders, parents, and students. It was about what we would strive for, work toward. It was aspirational.
Today, NCLB has been subverted into a name-calling, label-applying bully pulpit. It languished in Congress, now six years stale, until failure according to its antiquated yardstick has become a certainty.
We tried to help. 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.
In Lake Stevens — and in school districts across America — we lead by example. We create confidence, capacity, knowledge, and opportunity for everyone in our community. There is a palpable and ubiquitous culture of excellence in Lake Stevens, where it’s common knowledge that each individual is supported, challenged, engaged, and empowered. Such things don’t appear overnight, they’re not accidental, and I have no intention of having our work undermined by distant labels and bracketed explanations.
The schools you’d have us call “failing” are anything but: we have Schools of Distinction (one of them four years running), we have Washington Achievement Awards schools, and we have a Reward School.
The leaders whom you also assert are failing – me included – are not. Our school board has won the national Magna Award and is a recognized Board of Distinction. I am an elected member to the Board of Directors for our state-level Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA), and my fellow Lake Stevens Board Director is President of WSSDA.
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.
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.
Our school leaders are strong, our educators are exceptional, and our students are dedicated. Fourteen days before school, what they will hear from leaders in Lake Stevens is this: the bar this year is raised again, we believe in you, and you must continue to strive for excellence. They will hear that we are behind them, and that we believe in them without reservation, or caveat.
If you pull our funding, you’ll be forsaking Washington’s most needy students – the very students for whom the original ESEA legislation was passed 50 years ago. You’ll be abandoning those students, but we won’t. In Lake Stevens – and in everydistrict across America – we’ll do whatever we must to ensure no child is left behind, waiver or not.
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.
David Iseminger
School Director, Lake Stevens School Board, Washington State

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