As of September 30, Texas public schools are no longer subject to provisions of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act that govern student performance on standardized tests. Previously, legislation stipulated that if 90% of students in a given school or district did not meet established thresholds on statewide math and reading exams, teachers and principals could lose their jobs. However, in a letter addressed to Texas Commissioner of Education Michael L. Williams, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan credited Texas’s “college- and career-ready expectations for all students,” “high quality plan to implement a system of differentiated recognition, accountability, and support,” and “[commitment] to developing, adopting, piloting, and implementing teacher and principal evaluation and support systems” as grounds for granting Texas’s request for the waiver. At present, 41 other states, together with the District of Columbia, have been absolved of such performance quotas. While Texas will be exempt from providing data on students’ test results, the waiver is conditional in that Texas must establish and launch an evaluation system for teachers and principals. If the Department of Education approves the system, Texas can then apply for a continuation of the waiver for the 2014-2015 school year and beyond.
It bears mentioning that according to the Dallas Morning News, Commissioner Williams estimated that a whopping 95% of state schools would not have satisfied the standardized test guidelines laid forth in No Child Left Behind. While Williams claims that “Texans know what’s best for Texas schools,” it is evident that Texas doesn’t quite yet know how to measure what’s best for Texas schools. The state currently lacks a uniform evaluation system for teachers and administrators, as some districts like Houston opt to include classroom data (read, standardized test scores) in their assessments, while others either completely ignore data or (as in the case of Dallas) pay lip service to using data in the future. As Williams and his Commission ultimately devise and execute a homogeneous monitoring and evaluation plan, they will have to determine just how much standardized test results – the very meat lying at the heart of the No Child Left Behind waiver – will bear on teachers’ ratings. Will they decide that classroom data fail to seize the wide spectrum of a teacher’s work, or will they take the stance that data-based evaluations ultimately diffuse educators’ weaknesses? Whatever the outcome, it will be interesting to observe how the cycle of uniform monitoring plans and extended waivers will affect the substance, breadth, and implementation of No Child Left Behind, legislation which Congress has been largely uneager to reform since its inception in 2001.
To read Secretary Duncan’s letter to Commissioner Williams, click here.