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Alliance Analyzes Benefits and Concerns in Obama’s Flexibility Plan for High Schools

An analysis by the Alliance for Excellent Education reveals several elements in the flexibility policy that could benefit the nation’s high schools while also highlighting some concerns for these schools.

Entitled “Obama ESEA Flexibility Policy: Highlights for High Schools,” the Alliance’s analysis finds the waiver plan will have a “more significant impact” on high schools because it will likely expand the number of high schools targeted for reform. For example, under current law, only high schools that receive Title I fall under the No Child Left Behind Act’s various accountability provisions and turnaround strategies. The new policy, however, will reach the thousands of high schools that are eligible for Title I funding but do not receive it.

Under the waiver plan, states must classify high schools with graduation rates below 60 percent as either “priority” or “focus” schools and implement appropriate reform efforts. Schools designated as priority schools must implement whole-school reform activities such as improving the school’s use of time and using data to inform instruction, while focus schools must implement state-determined improvement activities.

The analysis cautions that states have wide latitude in designating high schools with graduation rates below 60 percent as either priority or focus schools and says it is important to classify these high schools as priority schools to ensure that they implement rigorous reform. Additionally, it notes that states have the ability to develop their own improvement systems for the vast majority of low-performing schools and says the U.S. Department of Education should grant waivers only to states proposing accountability and improvement systems that call for rigorous reform of all low-performing schools based on their unique needs.

The analysis also notes that the waiver plan reinforces the work underway in states to implement college- and career-ready standards and aligned assessments. It says the policy will facilitate deeper learning for all students by specifically calling for higher-quality assessments that include the application of knowledge and skills.

“Obama ESEA Flexibility Policy: Highlights for High Schools” is available at here

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