Faced with intense opposition from teachers, Sacramento City Unified announced Wednesday it would not join other California districts in reapplying for a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Nikki Milevsky, president of the Sacramento City Teachers Association, left, and school board President Patrick Kennedy, announce the district's intent not to pursue a No Child Left Behind Waiver. Source: Sacramento City Teachers Association

Nikki Milevsky, president of the Sacramento City Teachers Association, left, and school board president Patrick Kennedy announce the district’s intent not to pursue a No Child Left Behind waiver. Credit: Sacramento City Teachers Association

Its defection leaves seven of eight districts seeking to extend a waiver from the federal accountability law through the California Office to Reform Education, a nonprofit that they formed. The waiver they got last year was the first for school districts, as opposed to a state department of education. The CORE districts applied because California was one of only four states that either didn’t seek a waiver or had its request rejected.

Rick Miller, executive director of CORE, said Wednesday he expects the other CORE districts to seek and receive a one-year extension of the waiver. They include three of the four largest unified districts in the state: Los Angeles, Long Beach and Fresno, plus San Francisco Unified, Oakland Unified, Santa Ana Unified and Sanger Unified.

From the start, former Sacramento City Superintendent Jonathan Raymond’s pursuit of the waiver alienated the district’s teachers union, which accused him of acting on his own instead of collaborating. The anger hasn’t abated since Raymond left in December.

“What started as a backlash against Jonathan Raymond took on a life of its own,” said school board President Patrick Kennedy. “We just came to the point of total paralysis,” where a stalemate over terms of the waiver were interfering with other negotiations and work in the district, he said.

“I would love to have continued with the waiver,” said interim Superintendent Sara Noguchi. “But we were at a complete halt.”

Nikki Milevsky, president of the teachers union, said in a statement at a press conference with Kennedy,We applaud the district’s decision not to seek a renewal of the waiver and look forward to working with them without this divisive topic hanging over all our conversations.… Our hope is that in moving forward with the waiver behind us we can tackle many of the initiatives important to both the district and teachers.”

The CORE districts’ superintendents didn’t need the consent of their unions to apply for the waiver, although some of the commitments they made to the federal Department of Education, such as using test scores in teacher evaluations, eventually will need to be negotiated to retain a waiver. Raymond said that he consulted with union leaders before applying; union leaders deny that.

The waiver has definite advantages, which Milevsky acknowledged. For one, districts have flexibility with a portion of their federal Title I dollars that had to be spent on outside tutoring services and transportation for students who enrolled in a better-performing school. Sacramento City Unified had used the freed up $4 million to purchase classroom technology, to enable teachers to do tutoring and for online support for students. That money will now revert to outside tutoring firms.

In addition, districts no longer had to classify schools that failed to meet increasingly difficult academic targets as failures, with annual letters home to parents permitting them to change schools.

But to obtain a waiver, states and the CORE districts had to commit to identifying and transforming the lowest-performing schools, implementing the Common Core State Standards and incorporating standardized test scores in teacher evaluations. The waiver allowed districts latitude to determine how test scores would be used and how much weight they’d carry. But Sacramento teachers remain opposed to incorporating any standardized test scores in teacher evaluations, and Noguchi said there had not been discussions on possible ways to meet the waiver requirements.

The teachers unions in most CORE districts signed a letter last year opposing the waiver, but work toward meeting the wavier requirements has progressed, Miller said. That effort includes pairing teachers in high-performing districts with teachers in low-performing ones, training teachers in the Common Core and devising a new school accountability index that incorporates ways to measure social and emotional factors of learning. Long Beach Unified Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser said that teachers and the district negotiated a new evaluation system, years in the making, that will meet the federal requirements without using standardized test scores as a specific weight in a teacher’s evaluation.

Miller said he was disappointed that Sacramento teachers didn’t try to make the waiver work but added, “Districts have to work together. If the waiver is not working for them, I respect that.”

In her statement, Milevsky said, “While the waiver did bring some flexibility in how the district could spend supplemental education service funds, the cost of the waiver and some of the requirements established within the application were detrimental to our schools and the students they serve.”

Kennedy and Noguchi disagreed; both said there were clear benefits. But Noguchi did agree on one point: The priority now is to rebuild relationships with teachers. “I would trade $4 million for trust,” she said. “That is the bottom line.”

John Fensterwald covers education policy. Contact him and follow him on Twitter @jfenster. Sign up here for a no-cost online subscription to EdSource Today for reports from the largest education reporting team in California.

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  1. Gary Ravani 3 years ago3 years ago

    Allow me toi quote an authoritative source from this very site written some time ago re the Obama Administration's "reform" efforts in RttT and the NCLB waiver. The article was written by yours truly. About "reforminess:" "It can, in fact, be demonstrated that all of the reform and school turnaround strategies advocated by the federal Department of Education are contradicted by research. To explain this phenomenon let’s talk about the proposals in the context of Stephen … Read More

    Allow me toi quote an authoritative source from this very site written some time ago re the Obama Administration’s “reform” efforts in RttT and the NCLB waiver. The article was written by yours truly. About “reforminess:”

    “It can, in fact, be demonstrated that all of the reform and school turnaround strategies advocated by the federal Department of Education are contradicted by research. To explain this phenomenon let’s talk about the proposals in the context of Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness.” Truthiness is a “truth” based on gut feelings without regard for evidence, logic, or facts. In that sense, the “reforms” can be seen as one of many examples of educational ‘reforminess.'”

    Replies

    • Don 3 years ago3 years ago

      Early indicators for successful reform are hard to come by, are always disputed and maybe even impossible by definition as outcome can only be viewed through the prism of retrospection and even then the data is questioned. That's why large scale reforms like CCSS are a terrible idea. If they go down they take everyone with them. Diane Ravitch is absolutely right on this point, imho. However, that is not an argument against reform. I … Read More

      Early indicators for successful reform are hard to come by, are always disputed and maybe even impossible by definition as outcome can only be viewed through the prism of retrospection and even then the data is questioned. That’s why large scale reforms like CCSS are a terrible idea. If they go down they take everyone with them. Diane Ravitch is absolutely right on this point, imho.

      However, that is not an argument against reform. I can talk about why the waiver is a good idea or why it’s a bad one. I can tell you how ludicrous it is for Torlakson to complain about the Feds doing an end run around state authority by handing out waivers to districts, though he’s got a point. So why was he all for LCFF – the state handing off its authority to districts as well?

      When it comes to reforms contradicted by research, they are like opinions. Everyone has one. The status quo has been well researched and the reforms in all their manifestations are the reaction to the general idea of a nation at risk. The state can rewrite the curriculum or change the funding scheme, but will this make any difference? Everyone is hailing LCFF but there’s no research to back it up yet. And reforms out of labor unions are far and few between.

  2. Ruth 3 years ago3 years ago

    I am blown away that the interim superintendent so emphatically states that she would trade $4 million for trust. That $4 million can do real things for the children who need it most, and you would trade that for trust with a teacher’s union? Are you kidding? That trust will break down instantly when another conflict arises, and you will have given away the store already. The only losers here are the children.

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    • Don 3 years ago3 years ago

      Yes, that is really an incredible statement by the interim Superintendent. So, let me get this straight. If the union doesn't like a particular policy even though it benefits students, they can kick and scream and bring the district to a halt and the administration will then willingly trade away those benefits to students in order to make the teachers happy? What a sorry affair and particularly so for the students of Sac City who … Read More

      Yes, that is really an incredible statement by the interim Superintendent. So, let me get this straight. If the union doesn’t like a particular policy even though it benefits students, they can kick and scream and bring the district to a halt and the administration will then willingly trade away those benefits to students in order to make the teachers happy? What a sorry affair and particularly so for the students of Sac City who have to deal with the political machinations of a district that holds the interest of the teachers above those of the students. It is clear to whom management is beholden and it is not the children.

    • TheMorrigan 3 years ago3 years ago

      Your argument hinges on the implied claim that all of the money would go directly to students. Is that true? How much of that money would be needed to go into creating a VAM system for assessing all K-12 teachers? How much for a data system's annual subscription and for upkeep? How much to send personnel to other CORE districts to develop this as-of-yet-not-developed system? How much to train staff on it? When my district … Read More

      Your argument hinges on the implied claim that all of the money would go directly to students.

      Is that true?

      How much of that money would be needed to go into creating a VAM system for assessing all K-12 teachers? How much for a data system’s annual subscription and for upkeep? How much to send personnel to other CORE districts to develop this as-of-yet-not-developed system? How much to train staff on it?

      When my district first did the math, we realized that the best case scenario involved $0.13 for each student. The worst case scenario put us in the negative for $.44 for each student. Districts that are living on the edge of fiscal responsibility need to be very careful here.

      The 4 million is a nice incentive, but if schools, teachers, and students never see the benefits, then is it all worth it?

  3. Sonja Luchini 3 years ago3 years ago

    First of all, I feel that the ESEA waiver has not represented properly the involvement of stakeholders. In looking over the documentation provided from the link here: http://coredistricts.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/CORE-Waiver-Application-8.5.13-full-doc-2.pdf it appears that claims were made that ESEA was discussed with all stakeholders, but in fact it was not. The ESEA waiver paperwork is 400+ pages and access to the public was difficult to find. But on the contents page 3 there is a section … Read More

    First of all, I feel that the ESEA waiver has not represented properly the involvement of stakeholders. In looking over the documentation provided from the link here: http://coredistricts.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/CORE-Waiver-Application-8.5.13-full-doc-2.pdf

    it appears that claims were made that ESEA was discussed with all stakeholders, but in fact it was not. The ESEA waiver paperwork is 400+ pages and access to the public was difficult to find. But on the contents page 3 there is a section labeled: “Appendix E, List of Attachments”. Number 3 on that attachment list is “Notice and information provided to the public regarding the request” followed by the notation “N/A” (Not Attached or Not Applicable?). There is no attachment of public involvement proof because I believe there was no meaningful public involvement.

    In a portion of the statement from page 16:
    “CORE believes that a decentralized approach is necessary to gather the input required to meaningfully represent each participating district.” “To support the development of this Waiver application, each participating LEA has initiated efforts to engage its local community.” Claiming to include “Community Advisory Councils” among others.

    This did not happen in LAUSD. I was CAC Chair at the time and our committee was told nothing. Asked for no input and we were left out of the process. There was no true parent/community involvement in LAUSD…but perhaps that was the point. Supt. Deasy prefers to dismantle the federally required advisories in favor of his astro-turf parent groups who spew back to the press whatever is fed to them by their paid “parent leaders”.

    No one discusses the real problem: poverty. Until parents have jobs, children can walk to and from school safely, well-fed and ready-to-learn, we will not see progress. Claiming all will be fixed by “good teachers” is a fallacy. Mayors should concentrate on fixing their cities and good schools will follow.

  4. Gary Ravani 3 years ago3 years ago

    Below find some relevant excerpts from a recent Hechinger Report article relevant to this issue. It may well be Sacramento is only the first> The Superintendent of Sanger, one of the highest performing districts with high percentages of disadvantaged students, says at the end of the article: "Maybe the CORE waiver won't work for us..." Mr. Navo understands that collaboration, not unilateral action, is the key to educational renewal. The collaboration must work between management and teachers … Read More

    Below find some relevant excerpts from a recent Hechinger Report article relevant to this issue. It may well be Sacramento is only the first> The Superintendent of Sanger, one of the highest performing districts with high percentages of disadvantaged students, says at the end of the article:

    “Maybe the CORE waiver won’t work for us…”

    Mr. Navo understands that collaboration, not unilateral action, is the key to educational renewal. The collaboration must work between management and teachers and between teacher and teacher.

    Read on:

    “By 2012, though, things had changed for the better: Sanger Unified ranked third in achievement gains among California districts with high populations of minority…”

    “We don’t believe that you evaluate teachers into better performance,” says Matthew Navo, superintendent of Sanger Unified. “We believe doing so creates fear and distrust.”

    “For this reason, the district has chosen the lesser of two evils…”

    “The district is also shifting to meet Common Core State Standards, which take full effect in 2014-2015 and emphasize critical thinking and writing. Classrooms already have an analytical atmosphere but the prospect of two transitions at once is daunting.”

    “Although he says he is relieved to be ditching No Child Left Behind, Sanger Superintendent Matthew Navo also says he is concerned about the shift. Teachers within a school district, or within a school, could be evaluated differently because new state standards only apply to certain subjects. Right now, Sanger’s teachers move between classrooms, sharing students and ideas, but evaluations could scare them away from collaboration.”

    “When student performances are indicative of one teacher rather than the whole group, teachers will be less inclined to share,” Navo says.”

    Replies

    • Don 3 years ago3 years ago

      As SFUSD has a waiver I have followed CORE over the last few months, but I knew nothing of the turmoil in Sacramento other than what I read in the article and the comments. It's puzzling that no reason is given for why the union wants out of the waiver other than the fact that it wasn't included in the application, though there was no requirement to include it. Am I to conclude from … Read More

      As SFUSD has a waiver I have followed CORE over the last few months, but I knew nothing of the turmoil in Sacramento other than what I read in the article and the comments. It’s puzzling that no reason is given for why the union wants out of the waiver other than the fact that it wasn’t included in the application, though there was no requirement to include it. Am I to conclude from this episode that districts will be brought to a political standstill if management don’t do what the union wishes? And what does it wish? Why doesn’t it state exactly why it doesn’t support the waiver?

      Do I have to remind the Board of Education that its duty is to the students of Sacramento public schools not the union? Naïve as it might sound, its leaders have a fiduciary duty to do what is in the best interests of their students and it sounds as if management believes the waiver is in their best interests. So who makes policy – the elected representatives or the union and why is management caving? Who’s getting threatened by this debacle? Seven other major districts with almost a millions students are in CORE and they are not “acting out” because they weren’t properly invited.

      Gary, in regard to the beginning of your comment what about collaboration between the union and parents and students? Why are only 2 of 3 main stakeholders at the bargaining table?

  5. Larry Ferlazzo 3 years ago3 years ago

    When there is no trust in any kind of relationship -- public or private -- it is unlikely an agreement on any difficult issue can be found. As a member of the Sacramento City Teachers Association, I can certainly speak to a history of agreements made, and then broken, by the District. Add to that the fact that there are actual falsehoods in the CORE application about consultation that was, in fact, not … Read More

    When there is no trust in any kind of relationship — public or private — it is unlikely an agreement on any difficult issue can be found. As a member of the Sacramento City Teachers Association, I can certainly speak to a history of agreements made, and then broken, by the District. Add to that the fact that there are actual falsehoods in the CORE application about consultation that was, in fact, not done with teachers, and you have a well that is deeply poisoned. The decision to withdraw from CORE is an important first step towards rebuilding the trust necessary for teachers, families and the District to work together in the future.

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    • Don 3 years ago3 years ago

      This is another example of why, each day, I become less and less empathetic with the concerns of teachers as they are represented by their unions. The elected board and its administration represent the people of Sacramento not the SCTA. The union is not charged with making policy. Go to work. Help student to learn and succeed. If you don't like the policies of the district that's fine, but if the well is poisoned, remember … Read More

      This is another example of why, each day, I become less and less empathetic with the concerns of teachers as they are represented by their unions. The elected board and its administration represent the people of Sacramento not the SCTA. The union is not charged with making policy. Go to work. Help student to learn and succeed. If you don’t like the policies of the district that’s fine, but if the well is poisoned, remember it takes two to tango. When “a stalemate over terms of the waiver IS interfering with other negotiations and work in the district,” then you have taken your concerns to the point where you’re damaging the education of the students you are supposed to be serving. Larry, you’re so caught up in what you think is right or wrong, you forgot that there’s a higher purpose than the issues surrounding an NCLB waiver.

      This whole episode is a disgrace.

  6. Don 3 years ago3 years ago

    I should have replied under your comment.

  7. Don 3 years ago3 years ago

    John, your article stated the following: "The waiver allowed districts latitude to determine how test scores would be used and how much weight they’d carry. But Sacramento teachers remain opposed to incorporating any standardized test scores in teacher evaluations, and Noguchi said there had not been discussions on possible ways to meet the waiver requirements." This ugly spectacle of saber-rattling is not about egos locking horns - though it appears that way. That is public face provided … Read More

    John, your article stated the following:

    “The waiver allowed districts latitude to determine how test scores would be used and how much weight they’d carry. But Sacramento teachers remain opposed to incorporating any standardized test scores in teacher evaluations, and Noguchi said there had not been discussions on possible ways to meet the waiver requirements.”

    This ugly spectacle of saber-rattling is not about egos locking horns – though it appears that way. That is public face provided for media consumption. This is a diversion by the union to avoid having to state the true reason why it will not tolerate the waiver – the requirement, in one form or another, of student metrics in teacher evaluations. Do you really think this is about two children in the playground who are so mad at each other all they can see is red?

  8. Don 3 years ago3 years ago

    The teaching unions have steadfastly opposed NCLB-style policy for being harmful to students, yet, faced with the choice between supporting a waiver with the requirement for "using standardized test scores as a specific weight in a teacher’s evaluation" or not supporting the waiver and harming students, in this particular case, Sac Unified's union would rather resort to the very policy which it has stated is not in the best interests of children. And unions would … Read More

    The teaching unions have steadfastly opposed NCLB-style policy for being harmful to students, yet, faced with the choice between supporting a waiver with the requirement for “using standardized test scores as a specific weight in a teacher’s evaluation” or not supporting the waiver and harming students, in this particular case, Sac Unified’s union would rather resort to the very policy which it has stated is not in the best interests of children. And unions would have us believe their claims that what’s in the best interests of teachers is in the best interests of students?

    Replies

    • navigio 3 years ago3 years ago

      In this case, the decision is between bad and worse. That is not inconsistent.

    • John Fensterwald 3 years ago3 years ago

      Actually, Don, the choices are more complex than the brief summary indicated. Districts would not be required to adopt evaluations earmarking a set percentage for standardized tests scores. That is one option, and for districts that choose it, standardized test scores would have to comprise at least 20 percent of the weight of an evaluation. LA Unified and UTLA, to settle a Stull Act lawsuit filed by EdVoice, chose that route. The second option, … Read More

      Actually, Don, the choices are more complex than the brief summary indicated. Districts would not be required to adopt evaluations earmarking a set percentage for standardized tests scores. That is one option, and for districts that choose it, standardized test scores would have to comprise at least 20 percent of the weight of an evaluation. LA Unified and UTLA, to settle a Stull Act lawsuit filed by EdVoice, chose that route.

      The second option, called the Massachusetts model because Mass got a state waiver on this basis, uses test scores (and they don’t have to be state tests alone) as a short of check to see if student achievement aligns with the overall evaluation. When data show that a teacher’s students consistently show no academic growth but the teacher has great class management skills and does great by other measures, this prompts a further analysis to see where improvement is needed. As Long Beach Unified does it, Supt. Steinhauser said, it’s not a gotcha evaluation. The other CORE districts will likely explore this option, CORE’s Rick Miller says. Sacramento City could have pursued it as well, but union leaders, piqued that the waiver was pursued without their participation, made it clear to me they weren’t interested.

      Since the state is no longer giving tests on state standards, and it will be three years at least before Smarter Balanced scores can be used in an evaluation, I am mystified why there’s such a continuing fight over the issue in California.

      • Manuel 3 years ago3 years ago

        It all makes sense if it is seen through the political lens: it is blood sport for both sides since the well has been poisoned.

        If you think this is bad, just wait for the conflicts over LCFF “extra” funds. Please bring popcorn…

        • Don 3 years ago3 years ago

          Manuel, I recently dialed the number and spoke with Margaret Weston of PPIC, (she co-wrote the piece on LEP standardization) and seemed to think that there will be a lot of political wrangling over the distribution and size of these LCFF grants as well as possible litigation. Make that a tub. I hope you like horror films.

          By the way, she’s a well of information and very personable.

  9. navigio 3 years ago3 years ago

    It is sickening to see that the adversarial standoff poison spilled over to other areas of district mgmt as well. And there will never be real trust as long as the purse strings are held by the state while the teachers negotiate with the district.

    Replies

    • Floyd Thursby 3 years ago3 years ago

      I feel teacher's unions are as likely to support NCLB or RTTP or Common Core plans as Rose Bird is to hold up a death row conviction. It ain't gonna happen. When the union defended Berndt and opposed Obama's RTTP, they were basically saying we won't think, we won't compromise, there's a line drawn in the sand, a blood line, and we'll just automatically fight all progress. They lost a lot of … Read More

      I feel teacher’s unions are as likely to support NCLB or RTTP or Common Core plans as Rose Bird is to hold up a death row conviction. It ain’t gonna happen. When the union defended Berndt and opposed Obama’s RTTP, they were basically saying we won’t think, we won’t compromise, there’s a line drawn in the sand, a blood line, and we’ll just automatically fight all progress. They lost a lot of respect when they supported Berndt. That was a tragic decision. Testing is a great movement which shines a light on our failures. Without knowledge of weakness, one can hardly improve, but the union wishes to keep us in the dark for as long as humanly possible and convince everyone the only issue is poverty, not teaching, not effort, not services. It’s the blind leading the blind.

      • TheMorrigan 3 years ago3 years ago

        States that do not have teachers unions have seen districts pull out as well. Charter schools that have no unions have even pulled out. While some reasons for their pull out have been over collecting student data and VAM, the biggest concern has been that many states and districts would be spending more money on the policy requirements than they would get with their RttT funds. In effect, it would cost districts more money … Read More

        States that do not have teachers unions have seen districts pull out as well. Charter schools that have no unions have even pulled out. While some reasons for their pull out have been over collecting student data and VAM, the biggest concern has been that many states and districts would be spending more money on the policy requirements than they would get with their RttT funds. In effect, it would cost districts more money to fully implement RttT policies than they would get.

        Do the math.