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Williams: "Conflict of Visions" on Educator Evaluations

Education Commissioner Michael Williams said Wednesday that the state does not have the authority to satisfy federal officials’ desire for a more overarching system.

Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams at a Texas Tribune event on Jan. 10, 2013.

As Texas continues to be at loggerheads with the U.S. Department of Education over the terms of the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver, the Texas education commissioner said Wednesday that the state and the federal government have a “conflict of visions” on educator evaluations.

Speaking at a State Board of Education meeting, Education Commissioner Michael Williams said the state education agency does not have the authority to satisfy federal officials’ desire for a more overarching evaluation system — nor does he intend to ask the Legislature to grant it.

"Local control runs in the DNA of us as Texans, and so we sort of resisted the notion of telling districts how to go about the business of evaluating your folks," Williams said.

The federal government is also arguing for broader use of teacher evaluations in personnel decisions like salary increases and hiring, Williams said, while the state believes that evaluations should primarily be used for feedback and professional development. He suggested the state's superintendents might no longer want the waiver if it came with those strings attached.

"I think it’s fair to say that maybe superintendents will tell us, 'If those are the things the federal government wants us to do, we don’t want to do them, so let’s forget about the waiver,'" Williams said.

In late January, federal education officials rejected a new educator evaluation system currently being piloted by the state in part because it did not require all school districts to use student achievement on standardized tests to measure teacher performance. Williams noted Wednesday that while most Texas school districts — 86 percent — use the statewide evaluation system, they do so voluntarily.

A new evaluation system consistent with federal guidelines was a condition that federal officials set in place in September 2013 when it granted Texas the No Child Left Behind waiver.

Without the federal waiver, nearly all of the state's school districts would be subject to sanctions, including forced restructuring, for failing to meet the law's requirement that 100 percent of their students pass reading and math exams.

Williams' remarks to the board expanded upon those he made two weeks ago at an annual gathering of Texas school administrators, where he said Texas might "go the way of California" when it came to the waiver. California is among the handful of states that have lost or been denied waivers because they've declined to make changes demanded by the federal government. 

His comments come amid almost two years of negotiations over the waiver. Congress is currently in the process of rewriting the 2001 law, and it is unclear how the final version will handle teacher evaluations. 

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