Sacramento school district backs out of CORE waiver

By Cody Drabble

Bowing to pressure from its teachers union, the Sacramento City Unified School District withdrew last week from a statewide effort to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores.

Specifically, the district opted out of a waiver from the sweeping education law known as the No Child Left Behind Act. The district’s waiver was secured by the California Office to Reform Education, or CORE. Sacramento teachers and parents criticized former district Superintendent Jonathan Raymond for joining CORE with little input from stakeholders or democratic oversight by the school board.

Patrick Kennedy, the board of education president, announced the district’s withdrawal from the CORE waiver last week at Sacramento City Teachers Association headquarters. “The way that [it] was developed was probably not as collaborative as it should have been, and it was clear that it was becoming a distraction from being able to get the important things done,” he told SN&R.

CORE, a nonprofit consortium of 10 California school districts, representing more than 1 million of the state’s 6.3 million students, obtained the waiver for the 2013-2014 school year to avoid federal penalties tied to student test performance.

Until last week, district staff were preparing to file renewal paperwork with the U.S. Department of Education by May 1. But fully implementing the waiver wouldn’t have been possible without the teachers union agreeing to an evaluation system in their next contract, under negotiation now.

Kennedy, who is running for county supervisor, said the district is seeking legal clarification on whether it will be subject to NCLB testing and spending requirements starting July 1, or be shielded by the statewide waiver granted to the California Department of Education on March 7.

CORE spokeswoman Hilary McLean said the school district remains part of the consortium, just not the NCLB waiver. “All 10 districts continue to meet and collaborate on common core implementation and other areas of common interest,” she said.

NCLB technically lapsed in 2007, but Congress has continued to fund education under its terms in the absence of a bipartisan agreement to fix the flawed reform effort.

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson termed the district’s decision a “real loss for the city’s kids” on Twitter. Johnson’s wife Michelle Rhee founded StudentsFirst, which endorsed the CORE waiver last year.

Sacramento Teachers Association president Nikki Milevsky said withdrawing from CORE helps clear the air at the start of the bargaining process. “Now we get to sit down with a partner that shares our beliefs and isn’t driven by an outside force telling them to have different beliefs,” she said.

The association hopes the next two- or three-year agreement will be wrapped up later this year.

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