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NCLB Waivers: Lessons From The Early States

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will testify today before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions about the flexibility waivers he’s issued to states from some of the more onerous provisions of No Child Left Behind.

 
The hearing is expected shed some light on how states are implementing the provisions of the waivers, which allowed them to drop some of the stricter mandates related to testing in exchange for using alternative means of accountability. States had to agree to a number of provisions, including use student testing data as a factor in evaluating teacher job performance, and to focus their efforts on reforming the lowest-performing campuses. States must also have a plan in place for extending learning time for students. (For more on this issue, check out a recent report from the Center for American Progress detailing a “troubling lack of detail” as to how the states receiving the first round of waivers planned to comply with the extended learning time requirement.)
 
As I’ve mentioned previously, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is years overdue. For now, the waivers represent the closest thing we’ve seen to an actual blueprint for replacing NCLB. The Education Trust today released state-by-state analysis of the waivers, and determined the accountability plans for several states could actually hurt opportunity for historically under-served student populations.

From the Ed Trust’s president Kati Haycock, who will testify at today’s Senate hearing:
“When it became clear that Congress couldn’t reach agreement on a long-overdue reauthorization of the law, we understood the consequences of not granting some kind of flexibility,” Haycock said in a statement. “But supporting the concept of a waiver process is very different from supporting how that process moved forward or the final agreements that resulted. In the end, while some states showed real courage in the effort to move the needle on school improvement, far too many were allowed to create systems that weaken the civil rights commitments of federal law.”

For another perspective, Washington Post education blogger Valerie Strauss earlier posted a letter from a coalition in New Jersey concerned about inequities in the new accountability system when it came to minority students and those from low-income families.

And while we’re talking federal policy, you should also check out Education Week’s Politics K-12 blog for the latest on sequestration and the fiscal cliff, including President Obama’s call to Congress to keep those potentially devastating cuts from happening.

 



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