The Texas Education Agency (TEA) today released a statement detailing recent discussions between Commissioner of Education Michael Williams and officials with the U.S. Department of Education over the terms of the state’s ESEA/NCLB waiver. As previously reported on Teach the Vote, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan granted Texas a waiver of certain accountability requirements in the federal law, but the waiver was conditioned on the state’s revising its methods of evaluating teachers and principals.
In response to the waiver, TEA has been developing and piloting new evaluation systems in several school districts, with plans for a statewide rollout in 2016-17. Williams stated in today’s press release that the evaluation revisions were in progress “well before this waiver.” TEA also shared correspondence received from the federal government stating that recent peer reviews of Texas’s waiver submission had been critical of the state’s efforts around evaluation reform.
Assistant Secretary of Education Deborah Delisle wrote in the Jan. 7 letter to Williams, “Texas has not yet adopted guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation and support systems that meet all requirements of ESEA flexibility, nor does it have a process for ensuring that each district in Texas develops, adopts, pilots, and implements teacher and principal evaluation and support systems consistent with those guidelines as required by ESEA flexibility.” Delisle gave TEA a March 31 deadline to submit a waiver renewal request incorporating “final guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation and support systems consistent with all requirements” previously laid out by the Obama administration.
To fulfill the U.S. Department of Education’s waiver expectations, changes in state law would most likely be needed. For instance, Texas law does not currently require all school districts to use the state’s recommended appraisal system, which the federal government would prefer. The federal government also wants states to be more prescriptive in requiring local school districts to make certain employment decisions on the basis of evaluation results. Williams has said that he will continue to seek input from education stakeholders and state leaders on how to proceed “now that we have more specifics from the federal government on what they are seeking.” TEA officials have indicated that they do not intend at this point to ask the legislature this session for statutory changes that would remove local control over evaluation and hiring/firing decisions.
Meanwhile, it is becoming increasingly clear that lawmakers in Texas and several other states are reluctant to propose major statutory changes to help their states comply with the strings attached to federal ESEA waivers at a time when the ESEA itself is in flux. Congressional leaders have expressed a desire to pass a reauthorization bill — long overdue — this spring, and committee hearings on the reauthorization are already underway in the U.S. Senate.