Advocacy Groups Ask Duncan For More Rigorous Waiver Reviews

groupsIn lieu of Congress re-authorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the most recent version of which is No Child Left Behind (2001), the Education Department under Arne Duncan has used waivers to allow states to avoid the repercussions associated with not meeting the demands of NCLB. This is essential because no state is really anywhere near meeting NCLB’s exceedingly high, some would say impossibly high, standards. While many have spoken out against the fact that the waiver situation gives the Education Department unprecedented power, not many have spoken out against the waivers themselves, until now.

A recent plea of thirteen advocacy groups, from across the political spectrum, calls on the Education Department to be more rigorous and transparent in the way that they handle the waiver process. Some of the groups include Democrats for Education Reform, StudentsFirst, and the National Council of La Raza.

“It is crucial that the department uphold its responsibility to monitor waiver implementation and determine whether states and districts are adequately serving the students who are the intended beneficiaries of ESEA’s policies; i.e., students of color, students from low-income families, English-language learners, and students with disabilities,” the letter reads.

Even though ED has already published its rules for states seeking waivers, this coalition of advocacy groups demands more, and suggests that they will find ways to bring pressure to bear on the Education Department if changes are not made.

Here is a summary of some of their demands:

  • Evidence, whether it be student achievement or some other data, justifying why states should get more time to implement their waiver plans;
  • A closer analysis of “super subgroups” and if they are really necessary to get around the whole small-N-size issue;
  • Increased accountability around graduation rates. These groups want states using an extended-year graduation rate (such as a 5- or 6-year rate) to have more ambitious goals. And they want to put a stop to states that use GEDs as a part of graduation rates. (Louisiana gives a very small amount of credit to schools that award GEDs as an incentive for schools to keep working with kids who otherwise would completely drop out.);
  • States to spell out how they are moving away from the so-called 2-percent rule for testing students with disabilities;
  • States to annually refresh their list of “focus” and “priority schools,” rather than set their own timeline for doing so;
  • Answers on exactly how each state’s A-F or similar grading system is working;
  • Public transparency on any data analysis the department uses to inform its renewal decisions;
  • Stakeholder involvement in each state that’s pursuing a waiver extension.

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