ED Attaches More Strings to NCLB Waiver Renewals

nclb.ashxMichele McNeil at Education Week describes in a recent article how the Education Department, under Secretary Arne Duncan, continues to use NCLB waivers to enforce its policy goals.  The situation, which we have blogged about before here and here, is essentially that Congress has yet to pass a new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the most recent version of which is the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.  As long as Congress does not pass a new education law, the Education Department will continue to be able to demand that states meet certain requirements in order to not be found negligent under the high demands of No Child Left Behind. Essentially, no state has any chance of meeting those strictures, which stipulate that all students must be at the proficient level or above by the end of the 2013-2014 school year.

The most recent demands by the Education Department concern teacher quality, and if states meet them, they will gain two further years of flexibility under NCLB. Since the Obama administration will end by 2016, these most recent waiver stipulations will likely be the “last opportunity for the Obama administration to put its stamp on the ESEA and shape a future law.”

Renewal applications will be accepted in three phases, beginning Jan. 2 and ending Feb. 21. The renewal applications will be judged internally.

Following is a description of what states must do to gain the most recent waiver option:

To get a two-year extension of their waivers, states must reaffirm their commitment to college- and career-ready standards and tests, and to implementing differentiated accountability systems that focus on closing achievement gaps, according to new state guidance issued recently.

States getting a waiver renewal must also continue implementing new teacher-evaluation systems by the 2014-15 school year—but the waiver renewals would take these requirements a step further. States must, by October 2015, use teacher-evaluation data to ensure that poor and minority students are not taught by ineffective teachers at a higher rate than their peers.What’s more, under a renewal, states and districts must improve the use of Title II funds for professional development, with a requirement that districts spend the money on “evidence-based” programs and link them to new college- and career-ready standards. (Importantly, “evidence-based” is not defined.)

In addition to the new requirements on teacher quality, the waivers wade farther into one other new territory: district-level accountability. The district-role in intervening in low-performing schools has been identified as a weakness in federal frameworks, and so the waiver renewal process requires states to develop a “high-quality plan” for holding districts accountable for their efforts in turning around struggling schools.

The waiver renewal process seeks to beef up existing key areas as well:

Standards and tests—The department wants to ensure states are on track with implementing college- and career-ready standards and assessments, including backup plans for states that may have dropped out of the Common Core State Standards or common-testing consortia.

Student goalsAmid complaints that states must set “annual measurable objectives,” or AMOs, for schools and districts but do little to enforce them, the guidance seeks to boost the power of the AMO. States will need to spell out exactly what their plan is for intervening in schools where subgroups of at-risk students miss those AMOs (or graduation-rate targets). These AMOs often exist outside of a state’s regular school-grading or accountability systems.

Low-performing schools—Federal officials are keenly interested in states’ and districts’ plans for long-term interventions in “priority” schools, which are in the bottom 5 percent for student performance.

According to several policy experts, such as Anne Hyslop of the New America Foundation, the new waiver plan is mainly a continuation of previous Obama Administration policy. Hyslop believes that “at the end of the day we are going to see every state get a waiver renewal” because it is more expedient for the Education Department to effect change by working with the states on the waiver process than by revoking their waivers and letting the consequences of NCLB, whatever they actually might be, take place.

For more information, please visit: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2013/08/barring_reauthorization_this_m.html