"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Principle or Practicality:No Child Left Behind Waiver

Tomorrow, August, 8, 2014 at 10am, the State Board will debate and decide whether or not to accept the US Department of Education's (USED) waiver for some No Child Left Behind (NCLB) penalties.  This is actually a huge decision, determining who will decide the future of education in Utah.

The Problem:
No Child Left Behind is a huge overreach of the Federal government into education.  It arguably violates the Tenth Amendment.  As of 2014, every student in every school is supposed to pass our statewide tests, no matter what.  If not, the Title 1 schools (low income) that receive Federal Title 1 funds will have to set aside 20% of those Title 1 funds to use in transportation to another (non-failing) school, before and after school tutoring programs, and professional development.  In Alpine, we will be receiving about $9 million in Title 1 funds this year, and so $1.8 million, instead of being used however we see fit in the schools, will need to be set aside for those reasons this year.  This is about 0.3% of our entire budget for this year.

The US Department of Education has (magnanimously) offered a waiver for these past two years, allowing schools more flexibility with that 20%.  They have done so, in exchange for our agreement to adopt Common Core Standards*, Common Core Testing (SAGE), School and Teacher grading that is tied to the testing, and a central database on students, teachers, test scores--called reduction of duplication or something.  Two years ago, our State Board decided they were okay doing these things, and applied for the waiver.  At this point, they have the option of applying to extend the waiver. 

The Solution:
Before I get into my analysis of the problem and why I believe not renewing the waiver is the appropriate course of action, let me give you my proposed solution. 

1. The State Board should develop its own Waiver that has similar flexibility arrangements to those the Dept of Ed is suggesting.  HOWEVER, they should not put any of the 'assurances' that the Dept of Ed wants to say are a condition of the Waiver.  They are not required by law, and in fact, probably violate both state and federal laws.
2. The State Legislature should allocate $26 million to the schools to cover the lack of flexibility that will occur until such time as a waiver is granted.  (So contact the Governor and your State Reps and get their commitment to doing this.  $26 million from the state budget is a small price to pay to get rid of this level of federal overreach.)
3. Local school districts would need to provide at least some of that money to the Title 1 schools in the short term, with the promise of receiving a reimbursement from the state after the next legislative session.
4. Contact your Senators and your local Congressman.  Tell them to repeal NCLB, right away.

The State Board has the right to request a Waiver from the Feds, at any time.  They do NOT have to accept the waiver that the Dept. of Ed is proposing.  The Waiver is allowed under NCLB and does not specify they have to accept any requirements that come from the Feds.  The State Board is to propose a State plan and justify why waiving certain penalties and requirements will allow them to make their goals more readily.  Under NCLB, the waiver is supposed to be entirely of the State's own creation.  Furthermore, the Feds are not supposed to have any say in curriculum, standards, testing, or teaching materials.  In short, requiring the Common Core standards or SAGE testing as a condition of the Waiver would, itself, violate NCLB.

Additionally, some State Board members have met with legislative leaders who were supportive about allocating an additional $26 million to the schools to offset the amount schools would lose in having to accommodate those NCLB requirements.  The only downside is that the schools would need to have enough in their savings to cover that amount until the legislature can make that change in their next session in January.  So, for Alpine School District, we would need to allocate $1.8 million from our savings to our Title 1 schools to make up that difference.  Then the expectation is that the State would reimburse us in June or July of next year.  Since we finished off our fiscal year with almost $10 million in savings in our general fund, this would be do-able.

My Analysis:
I am very opposed to NCLB.  I opposed it in 2001, when I first heard of it.  It is a classic case of federal overreach, unintended consequences, and quite probably, a violation of the Tenth Amendment. But, I do not want the State Board to extend our NCLB Waiver for another year.  So if NCLB is so horrible, why would I possibly want to not get a waiver and go back to NCLB?

Here is my answer, and it's based on principle, not on practicality.

: a moral rule or belief that helps you know what is right and wrong and that influences your actions
: a basic truth or theory : an idea that forms the basis of something
: a law or fact of nature that explains how something works or why something happens
: likely to succeed and reasonable to do or use
: appropriate or suited for actual use
Politics is interesting.  Too often, we focus more on what is practical than what is the principle behind the issue.  Many times in life, we find that sticking to principle is much more difficult than just doing what is practical, at the time.  Ideally, it would be great to always have principle and practicality linked.  But, that is what makes standing on principle so difficult--they are often on opposing sides of many things.  As the definitions above highlight, principle is about truth, about right and wrong.  It is the guide that is to direct your actions and your decision-making.  Practicality is about what is most likely to succeed; it's about results, possibly only short-term results.  In the end, you will usually find that violating principle leads to long-term consequences and only short-term benefits. 
The waiver, as it currently exists, dictates that Utah will do 4 things
1) adopt the Common Core standards* and a form of statewide testing, acceptable to the Dept of Ed,
2) adopt a system of school grading (accountability system),
3) adopt a system of teacher and principal grading tied to test scores,
4) reduce duplication, e.g. create a statewide database for students, teachers, test scores, etc. 
In exchange, Utah receives a waiver from many of the egregious penalties in NCLB, including the repercussions if all schools don't have 100% of their students proficient by this year. 
So, why is this even an issue?
1.) The first principle is Separation of Powers.  As Americans, we have been raised with the concept that all power in government should not be centralized, but divided into many hands.  This prevents any one group of people from taking control and power away from the people.  Thomas Jefferson said, "What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government that has ever existed under the sun?  The generalizing and concentrating all cares and powers into one body." (1816)
But isn't NCLB a classic concentration of powers?  Yes, it is.  But it contains a few things that draw a line that cannot be crossed.  In NCLB there is a section called: Prohibitions on Federal Government and Use of Federal Funds (Sec. 9527).  NCLB (as well as a couple of other federal laws) says that despite giving us federal funds, the US Government cannot dictate, sanction, determine curriculum, standards, teaching materials, or tests.  What standards we teach, what materials we use, and what tests we use to determine if we are successful, those things are NOT ALLOWED under federal law.  It is this line that the Waiver crosses.  While it is true that our State Board adopted Common Core (which they are, arguably, allowed to do), we have seen in other states, like Indiana and Oklahoma, that when they have tried to back out of Common Core standards, their Waivers have been threatened.  Washington State just lost their Waiver because of the teacher evaluation piece.  In short, the Waiver gets rid of penalties from NCLB in a classic Faustian bargain, in exchange for the soul of our education system--what it is we teach and how that will be tested.
2.) The second principle is Representative Government.  The Waiver essentially transfers power over what Utah does in education, not to elected representatives in Congress, but to unelected bureaucrats in the US Department of Education.  All it requires for us to shift power from elected people to unelected people is for us to go along with the waiver.  We then show the Dept of Ed that we are willing to be led around by the nose, as long as we get some relief from NCLB.  Additionally, there has been a lessening of the outcry for Congress to repeal NCLB.  With the waivers, the Dept of Ed has done an end run around Congress, and if, at some future date, we don't like what they dictate to us, we will be stuck.  It is a complete power grab.  It goes from elected people to the unelected in one fell swoop.  And that, should be something we should all be opposed to.   
3.) And finally, and probably most important, Local Control.  Parents need to be primarily in charge of their children's education.  This is in State Law.  It is Natural Law.  Working with teachers who see their kids every day, parents and teachers will make the best decisions about a child's education. It's bad enough if the state dictates to us, but when decisions are made from a top-down perspective, parents and local teachers are left completely out of the loop.  Local school districts become the implementation arm of federal programs decided by some people with Washington connections who have never spent time in a classroom.  At the end of the day, the ideas and perspectives of our teachers and parents will give way to what we need in order to go along with the waiver.  As long as we can work within their requirements, all will be well.  But as soon as we step outside what they are willing to allow, we will be punished.
In conclusion, we need to draw the line in the sand over how much control we are willing to give to the Department of Education.  Just because we can live with their requirements now doesn't mean it will go well in the future.  We give that power away under somewhat favorable circumstances, but it will be very hard to get it back once it's gone.
If you would like to oppose the Waiver, please sign the letter at: http://bit.ly/XFQkxG
If you agree with the Waiver, please contact the State Board and express your opinion.
Text of my comments to the State Board on July 17, 2014
While my comments do no reflect the Alpine School District's Board of Education, they do reflect the thoughts of myself, and my fellow board members, Brian Halladay and Paula Hill.
We are asking you to not renew the NCLB Waiver. The decision you have before you is really about who will control education in Utah. A prisoner has complete freedom to walk wherever he chooses, as long as he stays within the confines of his prison cell. So too, we have been promised complete freedom over education in Utah, as long as we stay within the confines of the dictates of the US Department of Ed. With each iteration of the waiver, the Department of Ed can change Utah's education system unilaterally. Also, there is little motivation to fix NCLB, since the Waiver is seen as an acceptable Band-Aid. More importantly, however, the Waiver empowers the Department of Ed to dictate education policy directly to the states, completely independent of Congress. All it takes is for us to voluntarily comply with their power-grab. 
Whether you agree or disagree with the intent, outcomes, or motivation of the Department of Ed, providing this amount of power over the education of students in Utah to an unelected body is not something any American should be comfortable with. 
For Alpine school district, Title 1 funding is 1.7% of our budget. From NCLB, it appears we would still receive all Title 1 monies. We would lose flexibility in spending 20% of it, or 0.3% of our total budget. Just three-tenths of one percent! This amount isn't lost, merely reallocated. Due to great management in our district, we finished the fiscal year with 2.5% of our general fund budget remaining--more than 5 times what we would need to allocate to comply with NCLB. Would we like the flexibility to spend that three-tenths? Yes. But not at the cost of abdicating our responsibility for educating our kids to the whims of the US Department of Ed.
One of the fears in standing up against this waiver is the threatened loss of additional federal funds. However, recently the Supreme Court reaffirmed that the federal government could not withhold funding from other programs if a state refuses one particular program. Chief Justice John Roberts ruled, “The states are separate and independent sovereigns. Sometimes they have to act like it.”
We are asking you to help us act like a sovereign state. Reject the encroachment of the federal Department of Ed on Utah's children. Why do we assume that they know better what the children in Utah need than those of us sitting here, and their parents and teachers? To be blunt, they don't. We shouldn't give them the power act like it.
*Yes, I know it doesn't actually say 'Common Core standards', it says college- and career-ready standards common to a significant number of states.  Or Option B, which we haven't selected, says we would adopt college and career-ready standards certified to prevent remediation by our institutions of higher ed.  Either way, the Waiver is dictating what standards are acceptable and which ones aren't.  This is a direct violation of the Prohibitions for the Federal Government section (9527) of NCLB.


  1. Again Wendy you've done an excellent job of articulating you position. Thank you for taking the time to do so.

  2. Again Wendy you've done an excellent job of articulating you position. Thank you for taking the time to do so.