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December 19th, 2011

NCLB Waiver Leaves Room for Improvements

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently stated that the ten-year-old No Child Left Behind act is broken:

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has all but given up on the program, telling the Associated Press, “Whether it’s 50 percent, 80 percent or 100 percent of schools being incorrectly labeled as failing, one thing is clear: No Child Left Behind is broken.” Accordingly, the education department increasingly grants NCLB waivers, allowing certain schools to bypass the law’s provisions and avoid sanctions. Schools that have been granted waivers are able to submit metrics that place them in a brighter light, the AP reports, hand-picking favorable data such as its college entrance exam scores or the number of its students enrolled in Advanced Placement programs.
Excerpt from The Atlantic — The Mess of No Child Left Behind — Dec 16, 2011

In mid-November 2011, the Massachusetts Department of Education submitted an application for a NCLB waiver. This Powerpoint presentation was part of the discussion with state officials, educators, and parents leading up to the waiver application:

ESEA Flexibility – NCLB Waiver Discussion – Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education

If the waiver is granted, then, in exchange for accepting the Obama administration’s Blueprint for Reform principles, the Commonwealth will be exempt from some of the yearly-progress provisions of NCLB which have resulted in so many schools being incorrectly labeled as failing. Federal sanctions associated with those provisions will be avoided.  In theory, Massachusetts and other states granted waivers will have more flexibility in implementing educational policy and measuring outcomes. The Blueprint for Reform includes this section on meeting the needs of advanced learners:

COLLEGE PATHWAYS AND ACCELERATED LEARNING

Our proposal will provide competitive grants to states, districts, and nonprofit partners to increase access to accelerated learning opportunities for students. At the high school level, these opportunities will include college-level work. At the elementary and middle school levels, these opportunities will include access to gifted and talented education programs.

Grantees will carry out activities that help students prepare for, or directly provide, college-level work (including early-college or dual-enrollment programs, Advanced Placement (AP) programs, and International Baccalaureate programs), other accelerated learning programs, and gifted and talented programs in elementary or middle schools. Applicants may propose additional activities, such as allowing credit based on successful demonstration of competency via examination or other valid means, or providing counseling, mentoring, or programs to develop study skills. Priority will be given to applicants that propose to serve high schools with low graduation rates and that partner with state higher education offices and institutions of higher education in a program that allows higher education credits to be portable beyond the individual partner institution or institutions. Our proposal will continue to provide support to states to improve access to AP tests for low-income students.
Excerpt from the United States Department of Education’s – Blueprint for Reform — March 13, 2010

So far 41 states have applied or will apply for the waivers.  Critics question the legality of the waiver system:

Obama Administration’s Conditional Waivers from No Child Left Behind Provisions Spark New Legal, Policy, and Constitutional Debate — EducationNext — Nov 17, 2011

Boston public school teacher Janssen McCormick had this to say about Massachusetts getting the NCLB waiver:

“I hope the waiver results in further emphasis on local reform solutions, given that our schools are filled with great administrators. Those teachers who know their students as if they were their own children are endlessly resourceful in creating arresting lesson plans and are the finest evaluators of their students’ progress. NCLB effectively short-circuits these connections, nullifying creative lesson planning and replacing the understanding forged from working with a class over an entire school year with a few hours-long tests cooked up by people who will likely never meet our students.”
Excerpt from Boston.com — OPINION: Young teacher supports Mass. application to waive NCLB — Dec 2, 2011

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