Wednesday, July 17, 2013


CA Districts in DC for Final ‘No Child’ Waiver Pitch

by Brianna Sacks, LA Schools Report |

CORE Executive Director Rick Miller

Posted on July 16, 2013   ::  Pressed for time, a small group of superintendents and officials from a coalition of nine California school districts, representing 1.1 million students, are on their way to D.C. to ensure that its No Child Left Behind waiver proposal is passed in time for the upcoming school year.

CORE Executive Director Rick Miller>>

Representatives from the California Office to Reform Education (CORE) will be meeting with federal officials on Wednesday and are still confident that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will approve their request to be exempted from requirements of the federal law that could cause school closures if not met by 2014.

On his way to the airport, CORE Executive Director Rick Miller said the districts might have a better chance of getting the waiver passed if everyone was in the same room.

“We feel like we are really close to getting the waiver passed,” said Miller. “But it’s a 70-something page document with a lot of technical information and it’s a difficult conversation to continue to have digitally.”

LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy is joining Miller, along with superintendents from Fresno Unified, Long Beach Unified, San Francisco Unified and Oakland Unified, in an effort to speed up the federal review.

Miller said CORE has been having ongoing conversations with officials in D.C. over the past few months, but summer’s ticking clock was causing concern.

Districts are up against deadlines for contracts with companies that provide services, such as tutoring, in schools that have failed to meet NCLB’s academic targets, EdSource reported. Especially for Los Angeles Unified, these must be signed within a week or so.

After California’s waiver was rejected back in January, CORE submitted its own application to the Department of Education, marking the first time districts filed a unified proposal. Typically, a request comes from a state, and the department has already granted waivers to 39 states and the District of Columbia.

“The state board is OK with it,” said Miller. “They wrote a letter to Duncan raising some concerns but overall supported our application.”

The unique proposal raises a new and difficult question since districts took the NCLB waiver into their own hands: What role would the state play in this new accountability system?

“We are still figuring out how to make sure we are not splitting the state up,” said Miller. “It’s a very new idea.”

The group will be working through three different aspects of CORE’s proposed accountability system, known as the School Quality Improvement Index.

Intervention in low-performing schools has been one of the government’s biggest issues with the proposal, said Miller.

“We are focusing on peer review rather than having the state come in, meaning we would be paring high performing schools with struggling ones to help them improve and that hasn’t been done before in the U.S.,” said Miller.

“They want to know how that kind of locally-controlled intervention is going to work,” he added.

If the three-year waiver is approved, the coalition will have flexibility to spend $100 million in Title I dollars funded for low-income children. The districts would use some of that money for teachers and administrators to work collaboratively instead of relying on previous contracts, EdSource reported.

Controversial teacher evaluation methods will also be brought up in the D.C. meetings, especially since the coalition is developing its own way to judge teacher effectiveness.

“We’re using the Massachusetts Model System,” said Miller. “You first conduct an evaluation without student achievement data to see if they are effective and then compare that finding to student achievement in the classroom. If there is a large disconnect, you look at that.”

The group expects to stay in D.C. until Friday to ensure all issues are resolved so that students in the nine districts will not be faced with nearly impossible NLCB requirements, like becoming proficient in English and math by 2014.

“I hope the meeting lasts for a few days,” said Miller. “We will stay there for the rest of the week to make sure we get this passed.”

Superintendents lobby DC for waiver from No Child Left Behind

Jed Kim | Pass / Fail | 89.3 KPCC |

Arne Duncan Discusses Administration's Plan For Education Reform

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images --  U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan addresses the National School Board Association's Federal Relations Network Conference in January 28, 2013. Nine California school districts are hoping he'll grant them waivers to the penalties in No Child Left Behind.

July 17th, 2013, 5:01am  ::  Time is running out for nine California school districts that are hoping to get a waiver from penalties in the No Child Left Behind Act before the school year starts.

So several of their superintendents flew to Washington to meet with Department of Education officials to speed things up.

The group is calling itself the California Office to Reform Education. It includes the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Long Beach, San Francisco and Oakland school district.

The No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to bring all students up to proficiency in Math and English by next year. If they don’t, they’ll face penalties, including closures and having to set aside significant amounts of money for tutoring.

Thirty-nine states and Washington, DC, have received waivers from the federal government. California has not. Its application was rejected in January, in part because it will not consider using student test scores in teacher evaluation. The state said it wouldn’t reapply.

The group of nine school districts is the first to break out on its own. It has been confident that it’ll get a waiver, but the timing is unclear.

CORE districts to make final personal pitch for No Child Left Behind waiver

By John Fensterwald | EdSource Today |

July 16th, 2013 | Quickly running out of time, a delegation from nine California school districts will go to Washington this week to make a last pitch to federal officials for a waiver from the No Child Left Behind law.

Officials from the California Office to Reform Education (CORE), the umbrella organization that the nine districts created, remain optimistic that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will grant them a unique districtwide waiver from significant penalties and requirements under NCLB. The immediate obstacle facing them, for the waiver to take effect in the upcoming school year, is time. Districts are up against deadlines for contracts with companies that provide services, such as tutoring, in schools that have failed to meet NCLB’s academic targets. Especially for Los Angeles Unified, a CORE district, these must be signed within a week or so, said Rick Miller, executive director of CORE.

Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson is in the delegation traveling to Washington to make the case for a nine-district waiver.

<<Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson is in the delegation traveling to Washington to make the case for a nine-district waiver.

If the 3-year waiver is approved, such contracts won’t be required. Instead, the nine districts altogether will have flexibility to spend $100 million in Title I dollars funded for low-income children. The districts plan to use some of that money for teachers and administrators to work collaboratively. Sharing best practices among districts is a key element of the CORE application and offers “absolutely the best chance for districts to improve,” said Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson.

Along with Hanson and Miller, superintendents heading to Washington on Tuesday are John Deasy of Los Angeles Unified, Christopher Steinhauser of Long Beach Unified, Richard Carranza of San Francisco Unified and Gary Yee, interim superintendent of Oakland Unified. (Duncan won’t be in town today; he’s heading to Minneapolis.)

What’s encouraging, Miller said, is that “we are still intently engaged in conversations” with senior staff at the Department of Education.

Duncan has granted waivers to 39 states and Washington, D.C. (see map), with applications for six more states still under review. Five other states have either not sought a waiver or, like California, have had applications rejected.

CORE includes some of the state’s largest unified districts – Los Angeles, Long Beach, Fresno, Sacramento City, San Francisco and Santa Ana – along with Oakland, Sanger and Clovis. Together they represent about a million children, more students than in many other states. However, the federal government has never granted a NCLB waiver for districts, raising political and policy complications. The Council of Chief State School Officers, representing state superintendents, opposes the CORE waiver as an intrusion on their authority to enforce federal and state policies, and some advocates for low-income and minority students, including Washington-based The Education Trust, dislike the precedent of bypassing state oversight of academic accountability under NCLB. In March, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and State Board of Education President Michael Kirst wrote Duncan noting the State Board’s strong support for the waiver. However, the letter also raised concerns that needed to be dealt with, like the role of the state Department of Education.

Emphasis on district collaboration

CORE argues that it will demand broader accountability measures, beyond test scores, and make accessible to the public extensive data on academic results covering many more students than the federal government is requiring for a waiver. But it will do so through a distinctly different approach, based on peer review and a “moral imperative,” in which districts hold one another accountable. Those districts that don’t measure up will forgo the waiver. Besides losing Title I spending flexibility, they will have to continue to notify parents that their schools face sanctions for failing to meet increasingly unrealistic federal measures of proficiency on standardized tests.

In its application, CORE cited the high-performing Canadian province of Ontario, with its focus on teacher collaboration, instead of government-imposed sanctions, as its model. The architect of Ontario’s reforms, author Michael Fullan, advised CORE with its wavier application and might serve as an adviser if it’s approved.

To receive a waiver, states and the CORE districts would have to demonstrate how they would effectively introduce Common Core standards in English language arts and math and implement plans for improving their lowest performing 15 percent of schools. They must also commit to adopt new systems for evaluating teachers and administrators that would include results on standardized tests. In their application, the CORE districts said they would offer districts two options: One would require that test results comprise a minimum of 20 percent of an evaluation; the other, based on a system adopted in Massachusetts, would require using standardized tests only as a check against a review based on other factors, such as teacher observations and parent surveys.

The latter option should be an attractive alternative for teachers who oppose using standardized test scores. But, frustrated that they weren’t consulted in writing a CORE application stressing collaboration with teachers, the presidents of the CORE districts’ teachers unions wrote Miller last month saying they opposed the waiver application. Any effort at “whole system reform” must include “educators and their representatives, as well as other stakeholders, in meaningful decision-making roles throughout the process … not as an afterthought.”

Miller said that he understands why their application is giving the Department of Education pause. “There has been a positive impact in Ontario, but vesting power in peer review has not been done at this level in the United States,” he said. Federal officials “want to understand better and want more clarity.” They also want “a backstop” – a strong guarantee, in lieu of a formal role of the state, to ensure federal waiver and testing requirements will be enforced, he said.

Miller said that the waiver has gotten “enormous attention” from Duncan. Considering the “strong pushback” from forces lined up against a district waiver, “it is extraordinary that he has been so engaged. The Secretary of Education deserves a Profile in Courage award,” he said.


2cents smf: “A Profile in Courage award?”  Really?

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