About those ‘failing’ schools

Bring forth the letters, nondescript and government-issued, like a jury summons or an IRS audit.

Dear (supposedly loving) parent: A majority of Washington’s public schools are “failing,” as defined by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Your goes-to-a-failing school child may transfer to a (technically) non-failing elementary or secondary school, presupposing such non failures exist in your district (with regrets to students in Mukilteo.)

As The Herald reports, there have been 62 transfer requests for students attending one of the Everett School District’s six Title I schools not meeting what’s known as “Adequate Yearly Progress” targets.

Rule one, straight from the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” is don’t panic.

“There is a fair amount of confusion,” said Cynthia Jones, director of categorical programs for Everett School District who received parents’ calls about the letters. “There is confusion about what does it mean for my child’s school and what does it mean for my child.”

That confusion subsides when parents get in the weeds. If 100 percent of students don’t meet state-drafted standards, the entire school flunks, triggering the failure letters and other steps.

Parents caught off guard — and they are legion — tuned out the Olympia noise. Earlier this year, Washington became the first state in the nation to have its conditional waiver of No Child Left Behind denied. The bugaboo was that Olympia wouldn’t hitch teacher evaluations to student testing.

It’s more nuanced than a teachers-union uprising against a culture of standardized testing. The required use of poorly vetted tests to measure student achievement and linking those results to teacher performance is unworkable over the short term, however much it creates the illusion of accountability.

“There is widespread acknowledgment that NCLB isn’t working,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said at the time. “Congress has failed to change the law at the federal level, so states are forced to come up with workarounds.”

Because of the waiver denial, $40 million the state receives from the feds will be freighted with restrictions. The Everett School District, for example, will be forced to set aside 20 percent of its Title I budget to bus students in failing schools to non failing ones and to provide private tutors for struggling students.

Money falls away just as disadvantaged children get slammed the hardest. After all the shouting, there’s a simple, two-part remedy: Fully fund education as the McCleary decision requires and repeal NCLB.

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