Texas has been in limbo on its No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver renewal since January. This occurred when state and federal officials did not see eye-to-eye on a few of the finer points. Since then, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) was expected to resubmit its waiver request on March 31. In a letter on that day, Education Commissioner Michael Williams notified US Education Secretary Arne Duncan that Texas would instead submit its NCLB waiver request on June 1.
Williams thanked Duncan for his cooperation with “our work surrounding our waiver relating to No Child Left Behind.” The letter specifically asked to “delay our submission until after the completion of the 84th Texas Legislature” and to “accept this letter as our notice of intent to submit our annual renewal after state lawmakers and leadership have completed their work.”
The question for the push to June is why? One of the hold-ups with the Texas NCLB waiver was that the Obama administration did not feel that Texas went far enough in its new teacher and principal evaluation system. The TEA began to pilot the program in 2014; but state education lawmakers have not made reforming these evaluations part of their current legislative agenda. It is unclear whether Williams will have new information to present to the US Department of Education (USDE), the Houston Chronicle pointed out.
The USDE mandated the evaluation system as part of receiving an NCLB waiver. The new Texas Teachers Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS) features the prized component of Duncan’s program, the Value-Added Measure (VAM). The USDE uses the Education Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS), which contains VAM but is not the same product as T-TESS.
EVAAS ties the teacher’s evaluation to the student’s standardized test scores in the Common Core states. Those evaluation testing tethers are affixed to a state’s respective consortium (i.e., Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career).
There is an EVAAS exception in Texas, though — the Houston Independent School District (ISD). Perhaps they use EVAAS because in 2013, they leapt at the chance to participate in the federal grant competition, Race to the Top (RTTT).
This Big Education big bucks contest is often associated with Common Core. Houston ISD was a $30 million dollar prize winner and with that funding comes federal regulations.
Despite the rules of the game, Houston teacher “associations” went ballistic last summer over EVAAS. This is the same disagreement promulgated by the teacher unions nationwide. A handful of Houston ISD educators even filed a lawsuit, Breitbart Texas reported.
Another one of the USDE’s criticisms of T-TESS was that it wasn’t cemented into place statewide. Breitbart Texas reported that a far more significant issue was that some of Duncan’s demands were over items that would require either statutory changes to TEA authority or specific mandates to all school districts from the state level.
Despite what the feds want, Williams has stood steadfastly in his position that he does not have the authority under state law to order districts to use a particular evaluation system.
“I have always made it clear to federal officials that as part of the waiver process TEA could not exceed its current authority nor would we do anything to erode our state’s strong commitment to local control in public education. My position on this front has not, and will not, change,” the Commissioner said at the time.
In 2013, Texas applied for a condition-free waiver but was instead granted a conditional waiver that exempted public schools from the accountability requirements imposed by NCLB. That meant, the state no longer had to show 100 percent proficiency in math and English Language Arts by 2014. Title I of the NCLB law also siphoned off mega-money for tutoring to ensure that proficiency. No longer bound to NCLB, states could reroute those funds to other uses.
Perhaps, the bigger issue is not the renewal of the waiver but the fate of the NCLB Act itself which is stymied in its own Congressional limbo under a pile of controversial bills that have met with varying degrees of criticism based on how they solder College and Career Readiness and the Common Core permanently into public education. In this interim period, the USDE has been granting NCLB waivers to states.
Presently, the TEA is not commenting on the Commissioner’s letter.
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.