No Child Left Behind — and how to escape it — dominated discussion in Washington today. President Obama announced waivers from the law for those states that make efforts “to close achievement gaps, promote rigorous accountability, and ensure that all students are on track to graduate college- and career-ready.”
“To help states, districts and schools that are ready to move forward with education reform, our administration will provide flexibility from the law in exchange for a real commitment to undertake change. The purpose is not to give states and districts a reprieve from accountability, but rather to unleash energy to improve our schools at the local level,” said the president.
Here are the criteria to obtain a waiver:
1. 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, including English learners and students with disabilities. The state will then help its schools and districts transition to implementing those standards and will commit to administering statewide tests aligned with college- and career-readiness.
2. A state will establish a differentiated recognition, accountability, and support system that gives credit for progress toward college- and career-readiness. The system each state develops will recognize and reward the highest-achieving schools that serve low-income students and those that show the greatest student progress as Reward Schools.
For a state’s lowest-performing schools — priority schools, generally, those in the bottom 5 percent — a district will implement rigorous interventions to turn the schools around. In an additional 10 percent of the state’s schools — focus schools, identified due to low graduation rates, large achievement gaps, or low student subgroup performance — the district will target strategies designed to focus on students with the greatest needs.
3. Each state that receives flexibility will set basic guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation and support systems. The state and its districts will develop these systems with input from teachers and principals and will assess their performance based on multiple valid measures, including student progress over time and multiple measures of professional practice, and will use these systems to provide clear feedback to teachers on how to improve instruction.
In response to President Obama, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander issued this statement:
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn,. today spoke on the Senate floor about the No Child Left Behind law, the Obama Administration’s plan to announce a waiver plan for states seeking relief from the law’s outdated provisions, and the introduction last week of five Senate Republican bills to fix the law.Alexander asked U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to “show restraint” with respect to his waiver-granting power, saying, “Just because the Secretary has every state over a barrel doesn’t mean he should be tempted to use this opportunity to become a national school board.”
Alexander continued: “Step back. Look at the applications for waivers. If they enhance student achievement, say, ‘Yes.’ If they don’t, say, ‘No.’
“Some might say, and they’d be exactly right, that the real reason the Secretary is granting waivers is that Congress hasn’t done its job. We’re in our ninth year of No Child Left Behind and we should have fixed it four years ago when the law expired,” Alexander said. Congress has instead extended it every year without fixing it.
He went on to say that there is “substantial agreement here in the Senate, except for these accountability provisions, these differences over whether we’re creating a national school board. We should come to a conclusion about this. We should get a result. We shouldn’t create a situation where every governor has to come to Washington to get a waiver from standards that don’t work anymore. That’s our job.
“The Secretary has the power to grant waivers, but he should do it in a limited way and Congress should get to work fixing No Child Left Behind so there is no need for waivers. I call on our Democratic colleagues, with whom we’ve met dozens of times, to redouble our joint effort to get a result. “This is not a case where we don’t want President Obama to succeed, as some have suggested. We want him to succeed, because if the President succeeds on K-12 education, the country succeeds.”
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-IA, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, issued this statement:
“For the last two years, I have been working in a bipartisan fashion to do everything in my power to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Senator Enzi has been a great partner in this effort – we have been meeting on a regular basis since February to negotiate a comprehensive reauthorization, and have made tremendous progress. We have agreement on all but a few issues, and I remain hopeful that we can resolve the few issues that remain and move this bill forward.
“Having said that, I am not unaware of the obstacles that lie in front of us to get a bill to the President’s desk. Legislating is very difficult in this Congress, as we’ve seen time and time again, and local schools are crying out for relief from the most onerous provisions of No Child Left Behind. I certainly understand President Obama’s decision to proceed with a waiver package to provide some interim relief while Congress finishes its work, and am pleased that he is requiring states to show real commitment to reform in order to receive a waiver.
“But as I’ve said before, the best way to fix problems in existing law is to pass a new one. I am concerned that waivers provide a patchwork approach rather than a national solution. Given the circumstances, it’s the best temporary solution available – but it’s my strong preference that we pass legislation that provides a path forward for all 50 states, not just those who choose to pursue the waiver package. I will continue to do everything I can to provide America’s children with a world-class education system that will give them the skills they need to compete in the 21st century global economy.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog