Arne Duncan has labeled my school—and every school in Washington State—a failure. Cue the revolt.

The ultimate absurdity of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has been visited upon my home state of Washington.

One of the many outlandish propositions of  NCLB was that 100 percent of students at all schools in the United States would be fully proficient in reading and math, as registered by student test scores, by 2014—all without adding the resources needed to support our children.   Because no state has been able to achieve 100 percent proficiency, nearly all of the states have already received a federal waiver from NCLB—on the condition that they implement policies that reduce teaching and learning to a test score.

Now, because our State Legislators did not move to mandate that standardized test scores be attached to teacher evaluations, Washington has become the first state in the country to lose its waiver from the many requirements of the No Child Left Behind act. The U.S. Department of Education posted a letter about the status of Washington’s waiver on Thursday April 24th. The loss of this waiver means that every parent in the state should expect a letter informing them that their child attends a failing school. It also means that  school districts will lose control of how they spend a portion of the federal funding they receive—some $40 million statewide. As well, any number of schools could be forced into state takeover and made to replace most of the staff.

And so the absolute farce of federal education reform policy marches on, again without input from educators or parents, in an effort to destabilize the public schools, label them as failing, and then open up space for privatized charter schools.

This time they have gone too far.

My school is not a failure. Garfield High School, where I teach, is home to one of the best jazz bands in the country. I dare you not to shake your booty when you hear the Garfield drumline, the premiere percussionists of the Northwest. If Arne Duncan had been there to see Garfield’s drama department’s production of West Side Story this year, he would have been too busy humming “Maria” to withdraw the waiver.  And I really wish Duncan could have been in my classroom to see my students research and reenact the Montgomery Bus Boycott–during the time of the schools’ MAP test boycott last year–to see how learning in the service of solving societal problems is coming alive at Garfield.

More than this, none of our schools are failures. The failure is on the part of politicians and their corporate sponsors who have slashed education budgets across the country, and then overused test scores to blame educators for the nation’s problems.

Labeling us all as failures will only create solidarity among all the teachers, parents, and students across the state in a struggle to stop Arne Duncan’s mad testing machine. We at Garfield High School learned the power solidarity in our victorious MAP test boycott last year. If you think the struggle to “scrap the MAP” was impressive, imagine the size and scope of a struggle that unites every school in the state to honor our hardworking educators and students, rather than testing and punishing.

I am running for the president of the Seattle Education Association in part to help organize our educators in this struggle (you can donate and support my campaign here). Now is the time to build the largest grassroots civil rights movement to defend our schools that our state has ever seen. Who will join me?



18 thoughts on “Arne Duncan has labeled my school—and every school in Washington State—a failure. Cue the revolt.

    1. One way to help is by supporting my campaign for president of the Seattle Education Association. If I win it will help empower Seattle’s educators to build the struggle we will need to stand up to NCLB. You can donate to the campaign at:
      And learn more about the slate I am running on here:
      As well, sharing this article can go a long way towards educating the public. Thanks so much!


  1. jeannine

    “This time they have gone to far.” I could not agree more, but you had better check your spelling! We don’t need to give them fuel for the fire!


  2. Gwen Martin

    Thanks for speaking up. There are many students that are giving 100% effort but not making a 100% score. By calling them failures make them decide not to try at all. Go, Garfield, Go!


  3. Count me in! I’m tired of hearing teachers complain and say that they despise these test and that they can’t do anything about it. Let’s rally around them as parents, students, and community members to show that we support them 100% and show them we all can have a voice to make a difference.


  4. How do we get more schools on this page? Yesterday I opted my son out of MSP testing in Issaquah School District and was met with opposition that didn’t really make sense. My son was also told by his fourth grade classmates that I was going to go to jail for refusing to allow him to take the test (and where would they get this idea?!). It seems to me that this is a perfect time, as a parent, to stand up and say that NCLB was a horrific idea, and that we trust our TEACHERS not a TEST to measure our children’s achievement!


    1. Elin48

      Bethany, it’s not just NCLB that’s fueling this mad rush for testing, it’s now Common Core (Bill Gates) which has taken over from NCLB’s failures. Failures in the sense that it was NEVER going to be possible to eliminate the bell curve and neither would each child arrive at the same level of proficiency by the end of 2014. Any one who thought that would have thought the “emperor was wearing clothes” too. Just as the economy is spinning out of control, so are the expectations for children’s learning.


  5. Debbie McCormick

    I applaud you. I am an advocate in my state of NC. I agree that to force change all parents and educators against NCLB, RTTT, Read to Achieve and Common Core MUST band together. Our problems are not student’s grades, or our teachers instruction. The problems causing our massive education failure is our government imposing so many ridiculous rules to follow, which punishes our teachers, schools, and students, if they don’t. This is nothing but Communism. Arne Duncan is an ass and needs to go. Obama needs to step up to the plate and fix this.


    1. Eilene Corcoran

      Debbie McCormick, I am in NC as well, and would love to see this state get serious about supporting its schools. But, that seems like a pipe dream. Everyone here is too afraid of the consequences, and the average voter has no idea why these fabulous sounding reforms are actually detrimental. So, my husband and I are looking for jobs elsewhere. If a movement starts, though, I am in.


      1. Jeannine

        My daughter is in fourth grade at Lincoln Elementary School, which was started by Evergreen Students. It is a public school, but is “alternative” in it’s thinking. There are 28 kids in her class. Her teacher is fantastic. The school is wonderful, nurturing, and responsive.


  6. Pingback: Re-blog: I AM AN EDUCATOR | Social Equality Educators

  7. It is time. For all those that value a society that honors it’s founding principle of liberty and justice for all it is time. For all those who support the democratic ideal of local control of education it is time. For all those who reject the subjugation by a power elite it is time. For all those who reject a policy that blames educators for the woes of a system that fails to keep over 20% of it’s children out of poverty it is time. It is time to stand up. It is time to be recognized. It is time to speak to your convictions. It is time to call out the demagogues. It is time to call for and support real leaders that will work for policy that supports the whole of society and not just the entitled few. It is time to be fearless. It is time to be brave. It is time to take back our nation from those that would destroy all that we hold dear solely for the sake of profit and a healthy bottom line. IT IS TIME TO ACT!


  8. jeannine

    9 of 28 students in our 3/4th grade class have opted out. I do not know the numbers for the rest of the school, but the revolt is on!
    The Kempees-DeBray Opt Out letter…
    To the Olympia School Board April 29th, 2014
    We have chosen to opt our daughter out of the MSP for 2014. Our decision is an act of protest, as we believe high stakes testing is fundamentally changing the education system in ways that do not serve our child nor the children of our country.
    We believe the system of testing for data that will be used to penalize schools and teachers is wrong. We trust our teachers to assess our child frequently and work with us immediately to remedy areas that need attention. The MSP results do not allow us to respond to our child’s needs.
    We think it is class size that most impacts a teacher’s ability to teach successfully. Our legislature has mandated we spend more money on our schools, and we believe hiring more teachers and paying them fair wages will provide the most impact on our kids’ learning. Washington has the highest class sizes in the nation and this is unacceptable.
    We believe the costs of the tests currently administered are out of control and only serve the corporations that construct the tests and text books. The billions that are being spent on testing should be spent on reducing class size.
    We believe the current tests are not equitable across socio-economic strata, and therefore penalize low-income areas unfairly. We believe the test for this year in particular is out of sync with the subjects being taught and are therefore setting children up to fail. We are concerned that some children may not have the experience to work on computers and will not be successful as they navigate the technology required.
    We understand that we have the right to opt out and believe that a child who does not take the test by choice should not be counted in the final assessment for the teacher or school. This skews the data negatively and is meant only to strong-arm families into participation. We refuse to be a part of this inequitable process and stand with the many others who also make this choice. It is time to involve parents and educators in the development of assessments, allowing our teachers to act on each child’s individual needs.
    Jeannine Kempees Edward DeBray


  9. Praying common core and testing is thrown out of our schools before more damage is done to our children. Here in NY state we are fighting the beast too. Common core is garbage, it is killing any love of learning. Have to get even more people to stand against this CC/Testing mess all over the country..Spread the word.


  10. Pingback: Top Ten Acts of Test Resistance in 2014–the greatest year of revolt against high-stakes testing in U.S. history | I AM AN EDUCATOR

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