No Child Left Behind: with waivers, Obama offers states flexibility
No Child Left Behind is under fire, with President Obama offering waivers to some states, allowing them to pursue their own plans for school improvements and accountability.
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This summer, for instance, Montana Superintendent Denise Juneau said her state simply didn’t have the resources to intervene in the 155 additional schools that would have required state attention under the higher proficiency bar the state was supposed to set. She reached a compromise with the Department of Education in August by raising the bar 1.4 percent in reading and 2 percent in math, which affected just 16 additional schools.Skip to next paragraph
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Another area of flexibility under the waivers is how to measure which schools need improvement. Currently the law requires a series of steps if schools or subgroups of students within them continue to fall short of annual goals. Now, states with waivers will be able to identify the lowest-performing schools (generally the bottom 5 percent) and focus intense intervention efforts there.
Additional supports are to be offered to another 10 percent of schools with high achievement gaps, low graduation rates, or particularly low performance among a subgroup of students, such as a racial group, students with disabilities, or English-language learners.
The final area states will have to commit to is improving teacher and principal effectiveness. With input from teachers and principals, they are to develop guidelines for improved evaluations that include a range of measures – one of which must be student progress over time.
There’s widespread agreement that teacher evaluation systems need fixing, but just how to do that has been a matter of great debate.
“Evaluation needs to be more teaching-focused, not more testing-focused,” said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, a national union, in a written statement, which praises some aspects of the waiver plan but criticizes the evaluation requirement.
When states received federal stimulus money for education, they agreed to set up systems by January 2012 that would enable student achievement scores over time to be linked to their teachers, an Education Department Official says. Some states have recently passed laws to require such scores to be part of teacher evaluations, and others should have the data systems in place to plan to do so in the next few years.
Applications will be reviewed by a committee set up by the Department of Education.
If states are granted waivers, local districts will be able to use money more flexibly that was previously set aside to give students in low-performing schools tutoring or a choice to attend other schools. That would apply to about 20 percent of the Title I grants (for schools with low-income students), amounting to about $1 billion nationwide, Education Department officials estimate.
The National School Boards Association praises that shift as a way to help districts “support school improvement strategies that can more effectively address local conditions.”
The chairman of the House committee overseeing education, Rep. John Kline (R) of Minnesota, criticized the plan as yet another layer of burdensome requirements on states. “Rather than force states to adopt policies that reflect the priorities of Washington bureaucrats, House Republicans are working to give more control to the state and local education officials who best understand the unique needs of their students,” he said in a written statement Friday.
At the Republican debate on Thursday, presidential candidates were nearly unanimous in their criticism of No Child Left Behind and the sentiment that the federal government should leave education matters to the states.
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