Political game is no reflection on Vashon’s thriving schools | Editorial

Vashon’s public schools are strong. The school district is constantly working to address areas that could be improved, and most people would never label island schools as failing. That’s why it’s worrisome that this week a letter will go out to Chautauqua Elementary School parents that does just that.

This letter is not unique to Vashon, though. Washington had its waiver from federal No Child Left Behind requirements revoked earlier this year, after lawmakers refused to make student test scores a component of teacher evaluations in this state. As a consequence, most schools in the state are now required to send letters notifying parents that their children’s schools are considered “failing” because less than 100 percent of students passed state tests. Schools will also lose control over some of their federal funds.

Those who have followed this issue in the news will know this letter is meaningless and toss it. And those who read Chautauqua Principal Jody Metzger’s explanation of the letter’s background will likely do the same. So while the letter doesn’t mean much, it does symbolize a problem. Schools and children in our state are caught in the middle of a political game.

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act, handed down by the Bush administration in 2001, is badly in need of an overhaul. The flaws in the law have been clear for years, and most states in the country have obtained waivers from its requirements. However, Washington was the first state to lose its waiver after it refused to enact the new teacher evaluation requirement. Now we’re seeing the repercussions. Expecting schools to obtain a 100-percent passage rate for state tests by 2014 was unrealistic when the law was passed, it is unrealistic now, and it doesn’t do much to create better schools. If Washington fails to restore its waiver before Congress takes action, there could be even worse consequences for schools in our state, many of which are actually making progress and thriving.

While Congress needs to either fix or do away with this law, our state Legislature should consider its own compromise. A simple act — making test scores a part of teacher evaluations — would save schools from the burden now brought on by NCLB. Incorporating test scores into teacher evaluations is controversial, and most teachers’ unions oppose it. However, the law would also give school districts freedom to decide how and to what extent the scores are used, and there are many other components of the evaluations. A compromise at this point may do more good than harm.

However, one of the most significant things the state can do to improve education in the state right now is to fund it better, something it’s making poor progress toward under the McCleary decision. Issues with NCLB only serve to distract lawmakers from the task. Our elected officials at both the state and national levels need to set aside partisan squabbling in order to start putting students first.

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