In a strong and incisive letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Washington school board member David Iseminger has decried the U.S. Department of Education’s decision to rescind the state’s waiver of some of the more onerous requirements of No Child Left Behind, a move that will cause nearly all state schools to fail to reach the law’s student achievement benchmarks and require school districts to send “failure letters” to parents if they want to receive critical federal funds.
Last week, the department said it was rescinding the wavier because the state has not moved fast enough on its promise to use student test data to evaluate teachers and principals. The waivers allow states to escape from the law’s requirements that all schools educate 100 percent of their students to proficiency and math and language arts by this year–a provision widely criticized by educators and researchers as nearly impossible to meet.
In his letter, which was published on the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog, Iseminger characterized Duncan’s action as arbitrary and detrimental to schools and students.
“Your reason for revoking our waiver: we didn’t pass legislation you wanted,” wrote Iseminger, a board member for both the Lake Stevens School District and the Washington State School Directors’ Association. “More precisely, we passed legislation, but it didn’t have the wording (actually, one specific word) you wanted.”
Noting that Washington, D.C., is nearly 3,000 miles from his state, Iseminger offered to tell Duncan about “this other Washington” where “we have strong leadership in our board rooms, schools, and classrooms” and students who “are capable, confident, and work extremely hard.”
“In Lake Stevens — and in school districts across America — we lead by example,” Iseminger said. “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.”
Among the schools that the education department would have the state call “failing” are “Schools of distinction one of them four years running,” Iseminger said, as well as Washington Achievement Awards schools and a Reward School. He said Lake Stevens has won a Magna Award from the National School Boards Association (NSBA)’s American School Board Journal and is a recognized Board of Distinction.
With NCLB reauthorization languishing six years in Congress, the law “has been subverted into a name-calling, label-applying bully pulpit,” Iseminger said.
“We tried to help,” Iseminger said. “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 (NSBA’s) 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.”
Iseminger works for Microsoft in its Business Intelligence Group, part of the Cloud + Enterprise Division. He said if the Education Department follows up the rescinding of its waiver by withholding Title I money and other key funds, disadvantaged students will suffer.
“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,” Iseminger wrote. “You’ll be abandoning those students, but we won’t. In Lake Stevens — and in every district across America – we’ll do whatever we must to ensure no child is left behind, waiver or not.”