By Barbara Jones Staff Writer, LA Daily News | http://bit.ly/100sxbj
2/28/2013 04:50:49 PM PST :: Los Angeles Unified and eight other California school districts filed a waiver Thursday to the federal No Child Left Behind law, proposing a new system for measuring student achievement and developing better teachers.
The first-of-its-kind waiver would exempt the districts from a federal requirement that all students be proficient in English and math by 2014. Those measures have labeled 500 schools in Los Angeles and thousands more statewide as failing.
Instead, the districts want to create their own formula for success using standardized test scores, along with factors like attendance, suspension and graduation rates, to gauge how well a school is doing.
The waiver would also free up about $110 million earmarked for improving student achievement at struggling schools. Money now used to bus kids to better schools or to hire outside tutors could be spent instead on teacher training and summer school programs.
"We're ready to be held to a much higher standard," Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy said in a conference call with reporters. "This means college and career readiness for every single youth in our care."
The waiver request was filed by nine K-12 districts that belong to CORE - the California Office to Reform Education - who together enroll 1.1 million students. They include three of the state's largest districts - LAUSD, Long Beach and Fresno - along with Santa Ana, San Francisco, Sacramento City, Oakland, Clovis and Sanger.
If approved by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, CORE would extend its waiver to any other district or charter operator in California that agrees to follow its plan.
That includes a teacher evaluation that uses student test scores - a requirement that sank California's effort to get an NCLB waiver last year.
LAUSD and its teachers union have approved a data-based evaluation, although the two sides are quibbling over how much test scores should count in gauging an educator's success.
Leaders of the other CORE districts say they're already using test scores to evaluate teachers or are negotiating with their unions to get a system in place.
"Our stance is we're not trying to cull the lowest performers," said Oakland Unified chief Tony Smith. "We're looking to improve the capacity and professional culture of a school to better serve what students need."
The districts' requests will be considered by Duncan after being reviewed at the state level. Deasy and other officials met with Duncan last week and said he seemed open to their plan, which would take effect this fall.
But Paul Hefner, a spokesman for the California Department of Education, questioned whether it would be fair to have separate standards for various districts.
"While every district deserves relief from the unworkable requirements of NCLB, we are concerned about whether it is practical and equitable to have multiple federal accountability systems in place at the same time," Hefner said.
The U.S. Department of Education has granted NCLB waivers to 34 states and Washington, D.C., but none at the district level.
During their conference call, CORE leaders insisted that their waiver request is about helping struggling students and not ducking NCLB's requirement that all students be proficient in English and math by 2014.
Based on standardized tests, just half of the students in LAUSD are considered proficient in English and 52 percent are proficient in math. The showing is slightly better in Long Beach Unified - 56 percent in English and 62 percent in math.
The CORE plan calls for districts, schools and teachers to work together to help one another improve. Schools that continue to fail under the consortium's standards could be reconstituted or given to a charter to operate.