A. “Latest WASL results skewed, says Yelm district” quoting the Nisqually Valley News.
B. Reprinted from the Eatonville Dispatch with permission
WASL resistance part of Bethel strike
Encroachment by corporations into education identified
by Bruce Smith
Although fueled by the nitty-gritty issues of pay and workload, the recent Bethel teachers’ strike was viewed by many as the area’s first large scale push-back against WASL, No Child Left Behind and organized business interests trying to restructure the state’s educational system.
“An element of the strike,” says Bethel teacher Jim Sawatzki, “was a visceral reaction to the encroachment on our professionalism by external forces such as the WASL. It was a subtext to the bargaining – a clue being that the District did not, out-of-hand, reject the tie-in of WASL test scores to teacher evaluations.”
After lengthy negotiations, the District agreed to refrain from using WASL results as criteria in evaluating teachers.
According to Tom Cruver, president of the Bethel Education Association, many teachers were ready to strike over just the WASL issue, “even if we get our money.”
But teacher sentiments against WASL go beyond evaluations, and reflect a sense that it is fundamentally wrong for education. As a test, WASL is viewed by many educators, such as WSU professor emeritus Don Orlich, as a flawed means of assessing student learning. Along those lines, a recent study commissioned by the Washington State Board of Education found many deficiencies in both the WASL and its underlying curriculum standards.
Further, many teachers complain about having to “teach to the test,” and are concerned about administrators shifting financial resources to WASL subjects. This year, high school seniors will be required to pass their reading and writing WASLs in order to receive a high school diploma and some students deficient in those areas are taking multiple remedial classes.
Some Bethel teachers see an impact reaching far beyond their classrooms.
“WASL, and the curriculum reform it is part of, are restructuring the educational system and re-structuring society,” says Graham-Kapowsin High School science teacher Kim Moore. “It will shift funds from failing schools to approved ones, like charter schools and voucher programs.”
That shift is receiving a profound boost from the federal No Child Left Behind regulations, which stipulate that Washington schools that do not have 100 percent WASL success rates by 2014 are subject to closure or sale to private corporations. NCLB legislation mandates statewide assessment of students, and the WASL, although developed years before the federal law was adopted, is the No Child test for Washington.
Supporting WASL and NCLB are a myriad of business interest groups, one of which, The Washington Roundtable, has been identified by all three local state legislators as a major player in the restructuring of the education system.
“The business community, like the Washington Roundtable, is trying to direct the pathways to jobs,” says State Senator Marilyn Rasmussen. “But it should be the job of parents and educators to decide how to best educate our children, not corporations.”
The Washington Roundtable is a non-partisan organization composed of the state’s top forty corporations and is heavily involved in lobbying for the WASL and curriculum reform. It also wants to see the educational system transformed into a more business-like structure whereby teachers, like corporate factory workers, would be qualitatively ranked by their product, in this case their students’ WASL scores. If the teachers are successful in turning out high achievers on WASL, they get merit pay. But if the kids flunk, the teachers could be fired.
Evidence of the growing influence of this corporatocracy in education is exampled by Washington Mutual’s CEO Kerry Killinger, who participates in three major educational organizations: the Washington Roundtable’s education committee, the board of the Partnership for Learning and the directorship of its national equivalent, Achieve.org.
The Partnership for Learning is an organization set up in 1994 by then-Lt. Governor Joel Pritchard and Boeing’s CEO Frank Shrontz to conduct public information campaigns regarding state standards and tests. Currently, all board members of the Partnership for Learning are also members of the Washington Roundtable.
While Rep. Jim McCune calls for an end to WASL and a “return to basics in education,” his colleague Rep. Tom Campbell is clamoring for the repeal of WASL and the dissolution of the state agency that created it, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
However, Senator Rasmussen goes even further: “WASL is an atrocity. It is an insult to human intelligence and it will destroy the public education system as we know it.
[Ed. Note: Reporter Smith has done some very interesting investigative reports on the WASL that shine the light on how we have allowed our children’s education to be “dumbed down.”]