Wednesday, August 07, 2013


L.A.'s is among districts exempt from No Child Left Behind rules

LAUSD joins seven other school districts in California allowed to operate under rules favorably viewed by the Obama administration.

By Howard Blume | LA Times |

August 6, 2013, 9:22 p.m.  ::  The Los Angeles Unified School District, and seven others in California, will have more freedom to spend millions of federal dollars, create new ways to evaluate teachers and schools and replace restrictive testing and other rules, under a groundbreaking agreement announced Tuesday.

The eight school systems are the first in the country to win such rights based on a direct appeal to the U.S. Department of Education. Previously, the department would consider exemptions to the No Child Left Behind law only if state governments applied.

One result is that these districts will operate under different rules than other California school systems, which prompted sharp criticism in some quarters. These districts, which represent more than 1 million students, joined together to seek waivers to the law because top state education officials opposed the federal process.

No Child Left Behind, enacted under President George W. Bush, was aimed at ensuring that nearly all students would be academically successful by 2014. It forced states to pay more attention to student achievement, especially as measured by standardized tests. But opponents say it also has resulted in nearly all schools being judged as "failing" for not meeting nearly impossible improvement targets. These campuses are subject to severe sanctions, including being shut down or removing the entire staff.

The agreement allows the eight districts to replace a raft of federal rules with measures of their own choosing that met with favor from the Obama administration.

In L.A. Unified, one immediate benefit is $70 million that previously was required to be used for outside tutoring services under terms of the unpopular federal law. That money can now go to other purposes.

In Long Beach, the number of "failing" schools will drop from 48 to three, because their improvement on test scores will now be recognized.

In all the districts, schools doing poorly will team up with a successful campus, and improvement will be monitored by a new shared oversight board.

Districts also have agreed to new, potentially demanding, measures.

"We are not running away from accountability," said Long Beach Unified Supt. Christopher Steinhauser. "Actually, we've set a higher bar for ourselves."

In a telephone call with reporters, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan agreed, saying the California districts' plan provides "significantly more rigorous accountability."

For individual school performance ratings, student test scores will count for 24%, and other data, such as graduation and dropout rates, will make up 36%.

Social and emotional factors will be 20%. In that category would be suspension and expulsion rates and as-yet unspecified measures of "grit," according to a summary of the plan.

The last 20% has to do with "cultural climate," including surveys of employees, parents and students.

Teacher evaluations must include student academic growth, as measured, for example, by test scores. One option is to have this measure count for at least 20% of a teacher's review. Another option avoids a set percentage.

The districts also have pledged to look more closely at how groups of students are performing, even when these groups are small. As a result, the performance of students from low-income families, for example, will weigh into the ratings of more schools, even if these campuses have few of these students.

The other schools systems in the agreement are those of Santa Ana, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Fresno and Sanger, in Fresno County.

Teacher unions in those districts opposed the waiver process. They were concerned in part about the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations. But they also accused the school systems of acting unilaterally.

"This top-down move that excluded teacher input is absurd, counterproductive and divisive," said Dean E. Vogel, president of the California Teachers Assn.

He and other critics questioned the plan for school districts to fall under different rules. And state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said relief from No Child Left Behind should be given to all districts.


LAUSD, Long Beach and 6 other districts win waivers from No Child Left Behind law

By Barbara Jones, Staff Writer, LA Newspaper Group |

8/6/2013 7:57:27 PM PDT / Updated:   8:8:09 PM PDT  ::  Los Angeles Unified and seven other California school districts won an unprecedented federal waiver Tuesday from the No Child Left Behind law, freeing up $150 million to educate low-income students and creating new benchmarks for gauging their success.

The waiver eliminates the threat of sanctions if the districts -- collectively known as the California Office to Reform Education -- fail to meet the requirement that all students be proficient in math and English by 2014.

It also lifts restrictions on how districts can spend federal Title I money, which amounts to $6.8 million for Long Beach Unified and $80 million for LAUSD. They'll now have the freedom to train their own teachers, for instance, rather than having to hire independent tutors as in years past.

In exchange for greater flexibility, the districts had to show how they would implement the new Common Core standards for math and English and promise to use student test scores to evaluate their teachers. With a set of goals that's now different from what other districts have to meet, CORE also devised a new system for holding themselves, teachers and students accountable.

"We're not running away from accountability," Long Beach Unified Superintendent Chris Steinhauser said in a conference call with reporters. "We're setting a higher bar for ourselves."

CORE districts will measure progress using what they call the School Quality Improvement

Index. Sixty percent of a school's score will be based on standardized tests and graduation rates; 20 percent on "social and emotional" factors like absenteeism and suspension rates; and another 20 percent on campus "culture and climate," such as parent and student surveys.

CORE executive director Rick Miller said districts will use the index to review themselves and each other to determine which schools are succeeding and which need additional help. The coalition also will create a 14-member oversight board that will meet twice a year to review the districts' compliance.

The waiver was announced by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who noted that exemptions had previously been granted to 39 states and the District of Columbia but never to a district.

"Frankly, working directly with districts wasn't an easy decision," Duncan said. "We're not taking this up because it was simple, but because it was the right thing to do."

Officials said one of the most important elements of the CORE plan is that its accountability system will include an estimated 185,000 minority students who have been "invisible" under the No Child law. The current law measures the performance of a minority group only if there are at least 100 of those students at the school. But CORE districts will count the kids' performance if there are as few as 20 of them in the group.

"Accountability is no longer a feature of a random ZIP code," LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said.

In addition to L.A. and Long Beach, the waiver was granted to Fresno, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Sanger, and Santa Ana Unified. Together, they educate 1.1 million students.

The districts banded together after the state of California lost its 2012 bid for a waiver because it was unwilling to tie student test scores to teacher evaluations and then in 2013 decided not to reapply. The waiver is good for one year, after which they can apply for renewal.

While the CORE superintendents expressed hope that the districts could work collaboratively with their respective unions, the California Teachers Association called Duncan's decision "absurd, counterproductive and divisive."

"By approving this waiver, Secretary Duncan once again demonstrates how his rhetoric that educators be actively involved in education change is just that -- rhetoric," CTA President Dean Vogel said in a statement. "Not one of the local teachers' associations in the eight school districts was included in the discussion or signed the waiver application."

The Education Trust, a nonprofit advocacy group, also raised concerns about creating a system that excludes a majority of California's school districts.

"The department's approval of the CORE districts' waiver application sets a dangerous precedent that having different expectations for students living in different districts within a state is acceptable," the group said in a statement.

Duncan said no other individual district or coalition had applied for a waiver, nor would any be allowed to sign on for the current school year.

"Our strong preference is to work with states because it makes more sense and is much easier to manage," Duncan said. "But this was a unique situation. We didn't have an application from a state but this waiver affects so many children.

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