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The Obama Administration announced that five states will be granted No Child Left Behind waivers, bringing the total to 24 states that have been given waivers. In exchange for the waivers, each state has proposed more rigorous standards, including school and teacher evaluations based on student achievement.
“We feel very good about the direction these states are taking,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement.
“Their plans are the product of bold, forward-thinking state and local leaders who have moved beyond the tired old battles and partisan bickering to roll up their sleeves and start working together,” Duncan continued.
These states—Virginia, Utah, Missouri, Arkansas and Utah—are the latest in a long line of states seeking out waivers from NCLB sanctions that could potentially cripple schools by removing critical federal funding. While No Child Left Behind has been up for renewal since 2007, Congress has been unable to agree on how to fix it prompting the Obama administration to offer waivers.
“We would have loved to have got this done by rewriting NCLB, fixing what is wrong with the law while preserving what is right,” Duncan said in a statement. “We simply felt children couldn’t wait any longer.”
In spite of states receiving a reprieve from NCLB, many critics still worry that these waivers will be forcing schools to rely heavier on standardized testing in order to create more rigorous standards.
“I’m concerned that the only waiver applications they are accepting are reinforcing the test-based culture that exist in too many schools,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers said to The New York Times.
However, officials from these states receiving waivers are pleased, as it means that some schools, that while appearing to be failing under NCLB requirements, will be getting a reprieve to do what is best for the students.
“It was just kind of silly to be calling those schools ‘failing’ when in fact they’re not,” Fairfax superintendent Jack Dale said to The Washington Post. “No Child Left Behind had become less and less meaningful, because the standards were unrealistic.”
For example, Utah will be implementing a new letter-grade evaluation model for schools that is based on new measurements. Those measurements include high school graduation rates and how well low-achieving students perform as a group, as opposed to how kids perform as ethnic groups. Under this plan, students will be broken up into groups solely based upon achievement, and evaluated separately.
“This affirmation of local control in public education is good news for Utah, as well as schools, parents, teachers, and students.” Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said in a statement. “We don’t need the federal government telling Utah what is best for Utah’s children.”
Virginia was granted a waiver after 61 percent of Virginia’s public schools were failing last year, and have been waiting on approval since they first applied to for the waiver back in February and revised their proposal multiple times.
“Virginia schools and school divisions can now focus their energy and resources on implementing the state Board of Education’s rigorous new content standards and assessments without contending with outdated and often counterproductive federal requirements and rules,” Virginia’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright said to The Washington Times.
For many school officials, it isn’t about getting a reprieve it’s about strengthening their schools and improving student achievement.
“It's not about sanctions,” Margie Vandeven, the assistant Missouri education commissioner in the office of quality schools said to The Kansas City Star. “It's about supporting rigorous programs ... The public needs to understand how schools are performing. Not by labeling them, but by reporting (their performance data).”
In addition to the 24 states that have already received waivers, 13 others have submitted proposals and are currently under review.
Nancy Swanson is a writer for 360 Education Solutions