Texas adopts CA’s strategy on NCLB waiver, prompting new risk
By Tom Chorneau | SI&A Cabinet Report | http://bit.ly/S2q3ip
Uncertainty surrounds many district applications for RTTT
By Kimberly Beltran | SI&A Cabinet Report |http://bit.ly/OaCVbi
Tuesday, September 18, 2012 :: California is no longer the only state trying to get relief from the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act without committing to the conditions set down by the Obama administration – Texas is trying to do the same thing.
In a move that may put California’s bid at risk, officials in Texas have submitted an application to the U.S. Department of Education using the same sections of federal law that the Brown administration employed earlier this summer in hopes of winning a general waiver for relief from Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education.
“The (Texas Education Agency) believes these waivers will increase the academic achievement of students by improving and aligning the quality of instruction with the state's college and career readiness standards,” said Michael Williams, newly appointed head of the Texas education agency, in a memo to school districts earlier this month.
Williams’ boss, Texas Gov. Rick Perry – who spent much of the last year in an unsuccessful campaign for the GOP presidential nomination – has been an outspoken critic of the entire education agenda of the Obama administration, including the NCLB waiver.
During the primary campaign, Perry repeatedly promised to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education if elected because of his belief that the agency trespasses too much into a state and local issue.
Previously, Perry made headlines by refusing to join in with the common core curriculum movement that Obama helped establish as well as to participate in the federal Race to the Top.
In August, Secretary Duncan chastised the governor in a TV interview by noting that schools in Texas had “really struggled” under Perry’s leadership.
Clearly, such acrimony would not bode well for the Texas application and could seemingly hurt California’s chances as well if only as a result of association.
The Obama administration offered states relief from NCLB a year ago with the condition that states adopt college and career readiness standards and implement educator evaluations based in part on student test scores.
At least in part based on the fear that the waiver condition would prove too costly – the Brown administration along with state schools chief Tom Torlakson filed an application under a little known section of law that gives the U.S. Secretary of Education authority to waive any part of the federal education code.
Since making the waiver available, more than 30 states have accepted the conditions and been granted relief from a number of mandates called for under NCLB – including the requirement that all students meet proficiency standards in reading and math by 2013-14.
Texas officials said they were seeking the same general waiver out of objections to the condition that the state adopt college and career readiness standards. They argue that the existing standards are adequate and the federal government should not be interfering with a state issue.
Duncan has had the California application on his desk since June, but department officials have been tight-lipped about his reaction.
On a visit to Sacramento last week as part of a national barnstorming tour, the secretary told reporters only that the California proposal was still under review.
Tuesday, September 18, 2012 :: With just over a month remaining to the deadline, about 80 local educational agencies in California are trying to decide whether to seek a federal Race to the Top grant given the long odds and resources required to even compete for a share of the $400 million award.
“From my perspective, I don’t know that we have the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell of being awarded a grant,” said Jeremy Meyers, deputy superintendent of educational services at the El Dorado County Office of Education“We’re struggling as an LEA in all of the ways California as a state struggled with previous Race to the Top applications,” he said. “So we’re still in the process of deciding whether or not to apply.”
Those struggles revolve around the fact that the Obama Administration’s $4.3 billion Race to the Top program, first launched in 2009 to improve educator effectiveness and student achievement, calls for teacher evaluations based at least in part on pupil test scores as well as data showing results. Neither of those exists in California at the moment.
“Nobody has those systems in place right now,” said Meyers. “We would have to get teachers to commit, at least conceptually, to any plan we put forward and that’s an uphill battle right now.”
In addition to the collective bargaining that would be needed to meet requirements under the grant program, the state also lacks the necessary data collection infrastructure necessary to be able to show progress resulting from newly-implemented programs, Meyers explained.
California unsuccessfully attempted to secure funds in the first three rounds of Race to the Top. The state did, however, win a $55 million grant in a smaller program included in the third round – an Early Learning Challenge award that is being used to create a quality rating system for preschools and childcare centers.
Nationwide, some 900 districts and other LEAs late last month indicated their intent to apply for a fourth-round grant, which for the first time will go directly to the districts rather than to states to administer. The deadline to submit applications is Oct. 31.
The four-year awards will range from $5 million to $40 million, depending on the population of students served, according to the U.S. Department of Education. It expects to hand out 15 to 25 grants.
Despite the challenge facing them, the tiny Lake County Office of Education is going forward with its application for a $10 million to $20 million grant as part of a consortium that includes the county’s seven school districts and 9,000 students – something that is allowed under the rules of the competition.
Tim Gill, LCOE’s senior director of educational services, said that the money, if it were to be awarded to them, would be used to continue and expand the county’s College Going Initiative and Career Technical Education programs, which have suffered and been scaled back to due to budget cuts.
“Our CTE (career tech ed) is bare bones right now,” said Gill. “We know that it’s a longshot but we have to try.”
Some of the programs that would be bolstered, he said, would include the county’s commitment to increasing proficiency in eighth-grade algebra.
In a county where 68 to 70 percent of all fifth- and sixth-graders qualify for free and reduced lunch, and with one of the lowest parent education rates in the state, the LCOE is proud of efforts that in 2011-12 led to 95 percent of all eighth graders taking Algebra I, said Gill. Thirty-two percent of those students tested proficient or basic, and the district wants to help more students succeed in the subject.
Among the other districts who’ve said they plan to seek a Race to the Top grant is California’s largest, Los Angeles Unified. Despite continued opposition from its teacher union, LAUSD contends that it is close to becoming the state’s first district to implement a new teacher evaluation system that appears to meet federal requirements.
Still, district officials have yet to publicly share much about their race proposal or how they would use the grant money.
One that will not be participating is Long Beach Unified, superintendent Chris Steinhauser told Cabinet Report in an email. Long Beach had planned to join with Fresno Unified on an application to support preschool through third grade – but now, only Fresno will pursue that project.
Steinhauser did not say why Long Beach was backing out but the district could still end up still benefitting from new programs through itsparticipation as a member of the California Office to Reform Education, or CORE, which counts among its members both Los Angeles and Fresno.
According to CORE spokeswoman Hilary McClean, the remaining group members – San Francisco, Sacramento, Oakland, Clovis and Sanger – will file one application focused on middle school math.
Each of those three applications will seek a “supplemental funding grant of $2 million,” which is offered under the grant program, to support sharing the learning that is achieved from the new programs, McClean said.