The U.S. Department of Education (ED) notified Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams today that Texas’s request for renewal of flexibility under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) had been approved on a conditional basis.
Texas received word earlier this year from ED that the Department needed additional information on the state’s waiver extension plan. The Department’s interest primarily pertained to the state’s “final guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation and support systems consistent with all requirements.” It was apparent at the time that ED was particularly concerned with a lack of requirement that all districts implement the state-recommended evaluation system. When Texas formally submitted the state’s waiver renewal application to ED in June, TEA did not change course and continued to allow districts to implement a locally-developed evaluation system in lieu of the state-recommended system, which is consistent with current Texas law.
Today, ED granted Texas its waiver extension through the 2015-16 school year but placed Texas on “high-risk status” and made flexibility beyond this school year dependent on Texas meeting two conditions: (1) all districts must be required to use the state-recommended evaluation system(s) that is consistent with federal waiver guidelines and (2) all districts must use the results of those evaluations to inform personnel decisions.
Commissioner Williams responded to the development by welcoming the approval of the waiver for the 2015-16 school year but maintained the state’s commitment to the option of locally-developed evaluation systems.
“Throughout the waiver application process, I have made it clear to federal officials that I do not have nor will I ever seek the authority to compel local school districts to use one uniform teacher and principal evaluation system statewide,” said Commissioner Williams. “Our state believes strongly in local control of our schools. As a result, we will continue discussing this specific point with the U.S. Department of Education, but they should not expect any shift in Texas’ position.”
Commissioner Williams also acknowledged that the state’s new state-recommended evaluation system is set to roll-out statewide during the 2016-17 school year. The teacher and principal evaluation systems, T-TESS and T-PESS, are currently in the refinement year of a pilot phase, with 256 Texas districts and approximately 2,000 campuses implementing the systems this school year.
“I believe a majority of our school districts representing roughly 85 percent of the state’s student population would make use of these new appraisal systems,” said Commissioner Williams. “However, that choice will be made at the local level, not by the federal government.”
Texas has until January 15, 2016, to show compliance with the above conditions or ED will deny the state’s waiver for the 2016-17 school year. Texas may also appeal its “high-risk status” but must do so by October 9. Commissioner Williams stated he would seek the Department’s reconsideration of the state’s status.