NCLB waivers may benefit state

California could benefit from Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s ultimatum to grant states waivers from controversial parts of No Child Left Behind if Congress doesn’t act on reauthorization before the next school year starts.

During a telephone call with reporters Monday afternoon, Duncan said the Department of Education is working on a package of reforms he calls “Plan B,” which would give states flexibility from some requirements of NCLB, principally the mandate that every student be proficient in English and math by 2014. (Read the Secretary’s statement here). In return, states would have to commit to key reforms similar to those emphasized in Race to the Top and the blueprint for reauthorization – teacher accountability, higher standards, and turning around the lowest performing schools .

“As it exists now, NCLB is creating a slow-motion train wreck for children, parents, teachers, and principals,” said Duncan. Unless the law’s changed, an overwhelming number of schools in the country may soon be mislabeled as failing. This will trigger impractical and ineffective sanctions.”

As of 2010-2011, nearly 1,300 California schools were in year 5 of program improvement (PI), according to a recent report by EdSource. Duncan has said that unless the 100 percent proficiency standard is eased, 82 percent of all schools in the country will be in PI status.

The waivers aren’t automatic, but California stands a decent chance of getting one, said Rick Miller, a principal in Capitol Impact, which runs training programs on education policy for legislative staff. “Even though the state didn’t win a Race to the Top grant, we were a finalist in round two. We were doing growth models before growth models were cool,” said Miller. “And given that we’ve adopted Common Core, given that we’re part of an assessment consortium (SMARTER Balanced), and given that we have said that we’re willing to use growth as part of an accountability model, I think that California should be in serious consideration for a waiver.”

NCLB was the cornerstone of President George W. Bush’s education policy when he signed it in 2002. It’s been up for reauthorization since 2007 without any success. President Obama wants it overhauled before the end of the current Congressional session, but the effort seems to have stalled. Sec. Duncan said he’s seen some movement in recent weeks and believes that reaching a bipartisan agreement “remains the best way to create a comprehensive solution to the problems created by NCLB.” Nevertheless, he said he’s not going to wait around to see what happens.

“If we start to move forward and then Congress revs up steam and builds momentum we can back off at any time,” said Duncan. “The only option I’m not comfortable with is doing nothing.”

Author: Kathryn Baron

Kathryn Baron, co-writer of TOP-Ed (Thoughts On Public Education in California), has been covering education in California for about 15 years; most of that time at KQED Public Radio where her reports aired on The California Report as well as various National Public Radio programs. She also wrote for magazines and newspapers before going virtual as producer and editor at The George Lucas Educational Foundation. Kathy grew up in New York in a family of teachers. She moved to California for graduate school and after spending one sunny New Year’s Day riding her bicycle in the foothills, decided to stay. She and her husband live in Belmont. They have two children, one in college and one in high school.

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