Monday, September 26, 2011

White House Releases Guidance for No Child Left Behind Waivers

On September 23, 2011, the White House and the Department of Education announced new guidelines for requesting a waiver on provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)/Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). According to the Administration, these waivers will provide needed flexibility to states to support innovative state and local practices aimed at improving student achievement while Congress continues to work on ESEA reauthorization. States, if they choose, would apply for ESEA flexibility by submitting a plan that addresses the key principles (outlined below) of implementing state-wide standards, developing accountability systems, and evaluating teacher/principal effectiveness.

These principles reflect the plan for ESEA reauthorization submitted by President Obama eighteen months ago in A Blueprint for Reform. Obama’s recommendations focused on improving teacher and principal effectiveness; engaging parents; implementing college- and career-ready standards and developing assessments aligned to those standards; and providing intensive support to the lowest achieving schools. Accordingly, to be granted the flexibility on specific NCLB provisions, a state must develop a comprehensive plan that would address three critical areas:

  • Transitioning to college- and career-ready standards and assessments. The state would have to adopt have to state-wide adopt college- and career-ready standards in at least reading/language arts and mathematics in advance of applying for ESEA flexibility and then propose how it will work with local school districts and schools to implement them. The state would also commit to ensuring any statewide tests are aligned with these college- and career- ready standards.
  • Developing systems of differentiated recognition, accountability and support. The state would design a new system for holding schools accountable for achievement. As opposed to documenting schools as “failing,” DOE proposes the following parameters: those highest achieving schools that serve low-income students and that show the greatest student progress will be designated “Reward Schools.” The state’s lowest performing schools, generally those in the bottom 5 percent, will be called “Priority Schools.” Another 10 percent of the State’s schools (identified due to low graduation rates, large achievement gaps or low student subgroup performance) will be designated as “Focus Schools.” The state would have flexibility to tailor interventions to meet the needs of students at these schools.
  • Evaluating and supporting teacher and principal effectiveness. The state would set basic guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation that are based on multiple measures, including student performance as well as measures of professional practice. The state would design systems for giving teachers clear feedback and support.

In return, the state would be granted flexibility in meeting particular NCLB requirements which include the following:

Section 9401 of ESEA allows the Secretary to waive certain statutory or regulatory requirements of the legislation. The Department will offer states support in preparing these flexibility plans on behalf of their state and local school districts and a peer review process will be used to make decisions on all requests. Once granted, the DOE secretary may terminate the waivers if they are superseded by future ESEA reauthorization.

This is an opportunity for communities, in partnership with their local school districts, to have a significant influence on eliminating ESEA policy barriers faced by education leaders in meeting the needs of their students. States are explicitly encouraged to work closely with their local districts to ensure development of a comprehensive plan. The first round of requests is due by November 14, 2011 with future dates following in February and at the end of the 2011-2012 school year. For more information, visit the ESEA flexibility page.

See also:

The Center on Education Policy (CEP):

Education Waivers 101: Eight Questions You Should Ask about Education Waivers, Center for American Progress

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