President unveils NCLB waiver plan

Sunday, September 25th, 2011 at 6:39 am by

On Friday, President Obama unveiled his administration’s long-awaited plan to authorize states to gain waivers from specific requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

State Education Commissioner John King attended the White House event and issued a statement saying the Board of Regents will start discussions on the waiver opportunity at its October meeting and that the State Education Department will seek recommendations from stakeholder groups and accountability experts.

Council members are well represented on the stakeholder group SED will consult.

The requirements for obtaining waivers resemble those of the Race to the Top competition, so New York should be well-positioned to gain approval.

The opportunities for flexibility the new waiver system will allow include:

  • no longer requiring states to set school and district performance targets based on a requirement that all students be proficient by 2014.  Instead states will be permitted to establish “ambitious but achievable goals in reading/language arts and mathematics to support improvement efforts for all schools and all students.”
  • relief from “…a system that over-identifies schools as ‘failing’ and prescribes a ‘one size fits all’ approach to interventions.”   Instead, states will be allowed to design “…a system that targets efforts to the schools and districts that are the lowest-performing and to schools that have the largest achievement gaps, tailoring interventions to the unique needs of those schools and districts and their students.”
  • increased flexibility to use several funding streams “in ways they determine best meets their needs, and rural districts will have additional flexibility in using their funds.”

To receive waivers, a state will be required develop a plan to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps, and improve the quality of instruction including these elements:

  • a state must have already adopted college- and career-ready standards in reading/language arts and mathematics designed to raise the achievement of all students and commit to helping  its schools and districts transition to implementing those standards and to administering statewide tests aligned with college- and career-readiness.
  • establish a differentiated school and district accountability system that gives credit for progress towards college- and career-readiness, requires districts to implement rigorous interventions to turn low-performing schools around, and recognizes and rewards the highest-achieving schools that serve low-income students and those that show the greatest student progress.
  • set basic guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation and support systems developed with input from teachers and principals; the systems assess performance based on multiple measures, including student progress over time and measures of professional practice.

The model resembles the administration’s blueprint for reauthorizing federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act programs, last reauthorized as No Child Left Behind in 2002.

But reauthorization is already four years overdue and prospects for action before 2012 elections are nil. In his remarks unveiling the plan, President Obama said, “So, given that Congress cannot act, I am acting.”

Education Week reported that Congressional Republicans said the administration was exceeding its authority with the waiver initiative and the action could poison efforts to renew the law.

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said,

While I appreciate some of the policies outlined in the secretary’s waivers plan, I simply cannot support a process that grants the secretary of education sweeping authority to handpick winners and losers. This sets a dangerous precedent, and every single American should be extremely wary.

Our national affiliate, the American Association of School Administrators, issued a statement objecting to attaching conditions to the waiver process,

If we all agree that the regulations that are to be waived are onerous and an impediment to real change in our schools, then they should be waived for all schools, not just the ones in states that apply for and receive the waivers.

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