Monday, August 8, 2011

Flexing their muscles . . .

The President and Secretary Duncan have taken another step towards dropping the major provision of NCLB; ALL students meeting standard in reading and math by 2014. Today, they announced that the Secretary will unilaterally override this accountability measure. The rationale for the unprecedented move is the lack of progress in Congress on reauthorization of ESEA.

Though we still don’t know all the specifics of the waiver process, in this Education Week article we learn that the waiver requests will be available in September and that the applications will undergo a peer review process by people outside the department. This means that states granted a waiver can reset the bar for acceptable growth and push the NCLB sanctions further into the future.

We know that the waivers will only be granted to states that agree to adopting college or career-ready standards, propose their own accountability systems, and include teacher evaluation systems that use student growth on state tests as a component of rating teachers. This sounds a lot like the criteria used to evaluate Race to the Top grants and another tactic to push states into accepting the Common Core.

Though the waiver opportunity will be viewed as positive by states, there are those in Congress that are not pleased. Republicans in the House wanting to see the federal role in education reduced will not support the move and Representative Kline, House Education Committee chair, is already on notice as opposed to the waiver process. The potential for a lawsuit is possible as some believe that the Secretary has the power to grant waivers, but not in return for implementing the changes wanted by the department. They see this as a way to legislate changes that have not been approved any elected body at the national level.

Time will tell who wins, and time will tell if our state makes a waiver request and if it will be accepted. We have accepted the Common Core and can make a case for a rigorous accountability system. Just like with RttT, however, the teacher evaluation system using achievement data is not in place. It will be interesting to follow this story. Receiving a waiver would remove many schools from the “failing” list and all them to move forward without being forced to choose one of the federal alternatives, something that would be welcome.

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