Obama to Waive Parts of No Child Left Behind
By SAM DILLON NY Times | http://nyti.ms/pNtPfK
September 22, 2011 - President Obama on Friday will offer to waive central provisions of the No Child Left Behind law for states that embrace his educational agenda, essentially ending his predecessor’s signature accountability measure, which has defined public school life nationwide for nearly a decade.
Jeff Swensen for The New York Times - Education Secretary Arne Duncan will detail plans for the No Child Left Behind law on Friday.
In a White House speech, Mr. Obama plans to invite states that agree to overhaul low-performing schools and adopt more rigorous teacher evaluation systems to apply for relief from the Bush-era law’s 2014 deadline for bringing all students to proficiency in reading and math, as well as other unpopular provisions, senior administration officials said Thursday.
“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,” Mr. Obama said in a statement released on Thursday. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will provide details of the waiver process in a lengthy guidance document to be sent to state governments on Friday, officials said.
“This is the beginning of the end of the No Child era,” said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a nonpartisan research group.
Under the new policy, only those states that have adopted new academic standards that the administration calls “college and career ready” will be eligible to receive the waivers, according to White House documents distributed on Thursday. Also, states applying for the flexibility must sketch their plans for transforming their lowest-performing schools and for establishing new ways to measure the performance of teachers and principals.
Those that meet those conditions will be eligible to ask Mr. Duncan to relieve them from the 2014 deadline on student proficiency, which state and school district leaders have long said was an impossibly high bar.
The qualifying states may also ask to be allowed to replace the No Child law’s pass-fail school report card system with accountability systems of their own design, and for new flexibility in using an estimated $1 billion of federal education money.
The commitments the administration is requiring of states closely resemble elements of the administration’s own blueprint for rewriting the No Child law, sent to Congress last year but never acted upon.
“They want to tell the states that from now on the states are going to be in charge, not the federal government,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Fordham Institute, a conservative research group. “But to get this flexibility, states have to agree to conditions that are tantamount to the blueprint that Duncan put out a year ago, so this looks like a kind of unilateral reauthorization of the law.”
The No Child law, signed by President George W. Bush in 2002, requires testing in reading and math from grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, and reporting of scores for groups of students including racial and ethnic minorities. Even the law’s critics praise it for drawing attention to student achievement gaps. But Mr. Duncan says the law, long overdue for an update, has become an obstacle as many states seek to put in new standards and other improvements.
The law gives the secretary of education broad authority to waive some of its provisions, but some Republicans have insisted that it does not empower him to condition waivers on states’ adopting a particular education agenda.
“While I appreciate some of the policies outlined in the secretary’s waivers plan, I simply cannot support a process that grants the secretary of education sweeping authority to handpick winners and losers,” said Representative John Kline, Republican of Minnesota, who is chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
“This sets a dangerous precedent. Make no mistake — this is a political move that could have a damaging impact on Congressional efforts to enact lasting reforms to current elementary and secondary education law.”
The House last week passed the first of a series of bills Mr. Kline has introduced in an effort to rewrite the No Child law, but there has been no prospect for bipartisan consensus on a full rewrite in the House or the Senate.
Under the process administration officials described on Thursday, some states that apply for waivers this fall could be reviewed by the Education Department early next year, perhaps in time to make changes before they administer spring testing. For other states applying early next year, the waivers would probably not take effect until the 2012-13 school year.
Only a handful of states, probably including Georgia, Kentucky, Wisconsin and Colorado, would be ready to apply for the waivers right away, said Eugene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which worked closely with the administration in preparing the waivers process. Perhaps 20 other states could apply in 2012 after watching how the process unfolds for other states, he said.
And some states will probably not apply at all, because they are wary of disrupting their current systems of school accountability when Congress is likely to thoroughly rewrite the law within the next couple of years, Mr. Wilhoit said.
Even in states granted waivers, many of the No Child law’s fundamental features would remain in effect, including the requirements that all schools administer reading and math tests every year, and release the scores to the public in a form that shows the progress made by minority groups and disabled students.
“Students and schools need relief from No Child Left Behind and from the high stakes tests, so this looks like a good move,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union. “But this is just a short-term solution. We still need Congress to rewrite the law.”
The End Is Near for No Child Left Behind
Obama administration releases guidelines for states that want waivers from Bush-era program
By Mallie Jane Kim | US News & World Report | http://bit.ly/qKuxbO
September 23, 2011 - The nation's embattled key education policy may soon meet its administrative death. The White House today is detailing requirements for states that want to apply for waivers from essential components of No Child Left Behind, a law all sides call out-of-date and impossible. Its central provision requires every student to test at grade level in math and reading by 2014. But now, the Obama administration is providing a way to let states off the hook and hoping all states will take advantage. "This is not a competition where some states win and others are left behind," a senior administration official said on a Thursday call with reporters. "We'll encourage all states to apply, and everyone should have a chance to succeed." Several states have already indicated they plan to apply.
President Obama is scheduled to discuss the waivers in a speech this morning. "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," he will say.
Requiring change in return for relief irks conservative lawmakers, who are trying to address the issue with a collection of smaller education bills. When Education Secretary Arne Duncan introduced the waiver idea earlier this year, Republicans called it an end-run around Congress, a case of the Obama administration legislating by waiver.
But senior administration officials say the plan was created with bipartisan input from governors and state school officers and will be focused more on setting goals and leaving room for innovation than on dictating the means to states. "Our goal is to support their work, get out of their way wherever we can, and hold them accountable wherever we must."
Duncan's remarks today will highlight that goal. "One of my highest priorities is to help ensure that federal laws and policies support the significant reforms underway in many states and school districts," he will say, "and do not hinder state and local innovation aimed at increasing the quality of instruction and improving student academic achievement."
States hoping for a waiver will have to do three things: First, show they are transitioning to college- and career-ready standards and assessments, something most have already initiated. Second, they must implement an accountability system to reward schools showing progress as well as high-achieving schools that serve low-income students, but also take action to improve low-performing schools or schools with large achievement gaps. The method of intervention into such schools will be decided by the states, officials say, but-low performing schools must be held accountable. Finally, states must work with local educators to find ways to evaluate and support teacher and principal effectiveness based on several proven factors, including student progress. "The purpose is not to give states and districts a reprieve from accountability," Obama will say, "but rather to unleash energy to improve our schools at the local level."
In addition to allowing states to set achievable goals free from the 2014 deadline, the waivers will give states freedom in choosing how to spend certain federal funds allocated by No Child Left Behind, as long as they protect spending for disadvantaged students.
States can begin applying in mid-November, and officials expect the first waivers will be issued early in 2012. Those that do not apply or qualify will still have to abide by No Child Left Behind until Congress puts something in its place. The law was supposed to be overhauled in 2007, but lawmakers have been unsuccessful so far, leaving school districts stuck with an increasingly unpopular policy.
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