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CATCH THE WAIVE: Eleven States Receive Flexibility Under NCLB in Exchange for Reform

“After waiting far too long for Congress to reform No Child Left Behind, my administration is giving states the opportunity to set higher, more honest standards in exchange for more flexibility”

Eleven states will receive flexibility under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in exchange for their commitment to raise standards, improve accountability, and undertake essential reforms to improve teacher effectiveness. The eleven states approved for flexibility are Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

“After waiting far too long for Congress to reform No Child Left Behind, my administration is giving states the opportunity to set higher, more honest standards in exchange for more flexibility,” President Obama said in announcing the waivers on February 9.3  “Today, we’re giving … states the green light to continue making reforms that are best for them. Because if we’re serious about helping our children reach their potential, the best ideas aren’t going to come from Washington alone. Our job is to harness those ideas, and to hold states and schools accountable for making them work.”

To receive flexibility under NCLB, states must adopt and have a plan to implement college- and career-ready standards. They must also create comprehensive systems of teacher and principal development, evaluation, and support that include factors beyond test scores, such as principal observation, peer review, student work, or parent and student feedback.

According to the press release announcing the waivers, states receiving waivers no longer have to meet NCLB’s 2014 targets, but they must set new performance targets for improving student achievement and closing achievement gaps. They also must have accountability systems that “recognize and reward high-performing schools and those that are making significant gains, while targeting rigorous and comprehensive interventions for the lowest-performing schools.” Under state-developed plans, all schools must develop and implement plans for improving educational outcomes for underperforming subgroups of students. State plans will require continued transparency around achievement gaps but will provide schools and districts greater flexibility in how they spend Title I federal dollars.

“The administration’s waiver scheme provides just enough temporary relief to quiet the demand for lasting reform,” said House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN). “We cannot let this process stagnate. Waivers or no waivers, we have to change this law. And there’s bipartisan support on that.”

U.S. Representative George Miller (D-CA), top Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, agreed with Kline that NCLB needs changing, but he was more positive about the waiver announcement. “What excites me most about this announcement is that these states aren’t just running away from the one-size-fits-all approach of NCLB—they are running toward a system that strikes the no-longer-elusive balance between flexibility and accountability,” Miller said. “We have clear evidence of what’s possible—that federal policy can provide flexibility without losing sight of the core values of equal opportunity in education. There is a path forward. Now is the time for Congress to come together to get things done on behalf of all students.”

The U.S. Department of Education approved New Mexico’s waiver on February 15.

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