Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced on Tuesday, March 31, that five states had been awarded four-year flexibility waivers to relieve them from the “most onerous and unworkable provisions of No Child Left Behind,” the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 that was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson.
NCLB was due for reauthorization in 2007, but Congress hasn’t been able to agree on how to move forward.
In the meantime, states can request flexibility waivers, allowing them greater freedom; however, they must agree to develop “rigorous, comprehensive” plans that are designed to improve educational outcomes for all students, foster greater equity, close gaps, and improve teaching quality. It was announced today that Minnesota, New Mexico, Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina have met those goals.
Duncan said today that NCLB held back creativity and innovation in schools and created dozens of ways for schools to fail but very few for them to succeed. He clarified that the top priority is still for Congress to reauthorize ESEA, and he described what he would like the reauthorized law to do:
1. Give teachers and principals the resources they need, and support schools and districts in creating innovative solutions to problems.
2. Make substantive investments in high poverty schools and districts and expand access to high quality preschool.
3. Foster high expectations of all students; for schools and student groups that are not making progress, develop an action plan for change.
4. Dedicate extra resources and support to schools that are not making progress, including the lowest performing 5% of school.
5. Address funding inequities in schools that serve low-income students.
Duncan called the law a civil rights law at its heart, and said that it must remain true to those ideals and values.
Because of congressional inaction, Duncan said, the federal government is partnering directly with states by use of the waivers. He said that flexibility has allowed states to focus their attention and resources on the lowest performing schools while ensuring that low-achieving students have the supports they need to catch up.
He also said that flexibility has energized teacher and principal effectiveness, and allowed them to focus on creating feedback systems that show the impact teachers and principals have on student learning and on best practices to support teacher development.
The four-year waivers issued to Minnesota, New Mexico, Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina will take those states through the 2018–2019 school year.
On a press call, Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven Staples of Virginia said he hoped that the expedited renewal states could inform Congress as it works toward reauthorizing ESEA. He said that the waivers “allowed Virginia to focus Title 1 funds and other resources on interventions that result in students receiving personalized support sooner rather than later.” He continued, “All student subgroups met or exceeded statewide progress targets for reading in 2014,” and that eight of the nine subgroups, which he did not identify, exceeded objectives for increased achievement in math.
Staples said, “Without the waiver, even some of Virginia’s highest performing schools would be labeled ‘failing.’”
Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius of Minnesota said that the waivers allowed the state to change the NCLB goal of 100% proficiency by 2014, an impossible goal to many, to a more realistic goal of narrowing gaps by 50% by 2017. She said that 59% of schools are on track to meet the revised goal in math, and 65% are on track in reading.
According to Minnesota’s NAEP test results (National Assessment of Educational Progress, the results of which are often called the Nation’s Report Card), Minnesota went from 24th in the nation to 10th in three years. Though Minnesota had previously had one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation, she said, its African American fourth graders went from 24th in the nation to 4th. Cassellius said the state has made more progress in the past three years than it had since 1965, when ESEA first went into effect.