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TEA’s Williams: ‘We could get to the point where we’re like California’

Houston Chronicle
January 27, 2015

By Lauren McGaughy

AUSTIN – Commissioner of Education Michael Williams floated the idea of dropping the state’s bid for a No Child Left Behind waiver Tuesday, saying he needed guidance from the education community on his decision.

“We could get to the point where we’re like California and we say, ‘Keep your waiver,’ ” Williams said during a Q&A session with Northwest Independent School District Superintendent Karen Rue at the Texas Association of School Administrators’ midwinter conference. “Our waiver has not been revoked at this moment. We’re having this conversation.”

On Friday, Williams confirmed the U.S. Department of Education said Texas’ current teacher and principal evaluation system was not up to snuff. Without changes submitted by the end of March, the feds said, the state would be ineligible to apply to extend its waiver from federal mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

States are eligible for waivers only if they base at least 20 percent of teacher and principal evaluations on student assessments, including how they perform on standardized tests. But in Texas, the commissioner does not have the authority to put mandates on how local school districts to grade educators. Without the waiver, Texas would have to issue federal ratings to its public schools, more schools would likely be deemed “failing” under stricter federal standards and the state would lose flexibility over how it spends millions meant to benefit failing schools.

Williams told the hundreds of Texas educators assembled in Austin’s convention center Tuesday he needed their help to decide what to do.

“This conversation is about two distinct visions,” said Williams, who said the federal government wants states to make salary and tenure decisions based on educator evaluations, while Texas wants to use teacher grades to better prepare them. “We have a different viewpoint.”

Williams said the whole issue could be moot if the Congress makes significant changes to the federal law this year.

The commissioner also reiterated the Texas Education Agency’s decision to drop a $30 million request of the Legislature to pilot a new testing method.

“In large part, I wanted it there,” said Williams, who said the onus should be on lawmakers. “I think as we went and got closer to the walk up to the session it is quite apparent that there are a lot of other people thinking about this issue as well.”