Monday, July 18, 2011


New Details Emerge on Duncan's NCLB Waiver Plan

By Alyson Klein |Politics K-12 Blog/EdWeek |

July 15, 2011 12:35 PM | It's been about a month since U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that, since Congress wasn't making significant progress on reauthorizing the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education, he would step in and offer waivers to states from parts of the law.

Now, of course, the big question is: What exactly would that mean?

The department has been mum so far (even to some members of Congress) but speculation about the specifics is high, particularily among state chiefs.

Here's what is under discussion, according to sources:

• There would be three kinds waivers under No Child Left Behind, and states would have to sign up for all of them—it wouldn't be an either/or thing. This is something Duncan made clear in the initial waiver announcement.

• To waive the 2014 deadline for all students to be proficient in math and language arts, states would have to adopt college- and career-readiness standards and assessments. It's not clear yet what that would mean. But, presumably, Common Core would be involved. Student growth could be used to measure achievement.

• To essentially freeze in place the law's system of sanctions, states would have to propose their own differentiated accountability systems that would incorporate growth and establish new performance targets. States also would have to establish differentiated school improvement systems that more accurately meet the needs of schools with different challenges. The accountability systems would not have to include choice or free tutoring. Districts also no longer would have to set aside Title I money for such programs.

• To waive the law's highly qualified teacher requirement and get funding flexibility, states would have to adopt evaluation systems for teachers and principals that are based on growth and make sure districts actually do what they say they're going to do.

Apparently, the four models under the current School Improvement Grant program are the most significant sticking point in discussions of what the waivers should look like.


Politics K-12 take: Sounds like the department is trying to get as many states as possible on board with the waiver plan, since the "reforms" being considered are not as onerous/innovative as the requirements for the Race to the Top program.

It also sounds like none of this is yet set in stone. The White House is heavily involved in the waiver discussion. And the administration is trying to get top Democrats in Congress, particularly Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, on board. Both have dissed the idea of waivers.

Will this play in states? Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, who's had conversations with Duncan about the waiver plan, told Michele he supports the idea that states propose their own differentiated accountability plans. But he also noted such a process might take time, especially if those plans have to go through a lengthy peer review process.

Kline Unhappy With Duncan's Lack of Details on NCLB Waivers Plan

By Alyson Klein |Politics K-12 Blog/EdWeek |

July 6, 2011 9:24 PM  -- So, Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, is less than thrilled with the response from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to his request for more information about the department's plan to give states leeway on parts of the No Child Left Behind Act in exchange for signing onto a package of reforms-to-be-named-later.

Here's Duncan's response. To summarize, if you expected the department to provide Kline & Co. with a thorough, detailed explanation of the waiver proposal, you'll be sorely disappointed.

The letter lays out the rationale for the waiver plan (the law is overdue for reauthorization, states are clamoring for an update, the vast majority of the nation's schools will be identified as failing). And, in response to Kline's query on the legality of waivers, Duncan cites a section of the law that gives the department flexibility to waive requirements if it will help boost student achievement and improve instruction. (This is the same response he's been giving to reporters.)

But, even though Kline asked for details, the letter doesn't say just what these waivers will look like. It also doesn't say when the waiver plan will be finalized, how waiver requests will be reviewed, or when the waivers would become effective—all questions that Kline wanted answered.

Duncan says that the department will be asking states, districts, and schools for feedback on the plan. And he says he'd welcome any input from Kline and Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif, who oversees the subcommittee on K-12 policy and also signed on to letter asking Duncan for information.

But Kline clearly doesn't think this response makes the grade.

"It is disappointing the secretary continues to elude questions about his plan that 'trades regulatory flexibility for reform'," said Kline's spokeswoman, Alexandra Sollberger. "Instead of touting murky alternatives, the secretary should lend his support to the House Education and the Workforce Committee's ongoing efforts to advance targeted education legislation."

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