On June 29, the Obama administration approved five additional states’ requests for flexibility from key provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). On July 6, two additional states received waivers. In exchange for this additional flexibility, the seven states—Arkansas, Missouri, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin—agreed to develop plans to prepare all students for college and a career, focus aid on the neediest students, and support effective teaching and leadership. Twenty-six states—including this latest batch of seven—have received waivers under ESEA. Eleven additional applications are still under review.
“It is a remarkable milestone that in only five months, more than half of the states in the country have adopted state-developed, next-generation education reforms to improve student learning and classroom instruction, while ensuring that resources are targeted to the students that need them most,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “A strong, bipartisan reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act remains the best path forward in education reform, but as twenty-six states have now demonstrated, our kids can’t wait any longer for Congress to act.”
While twenty-six states have received waivers, Iowa became the first state to have its request turned down. In a June 21 letter to Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass, U.S. Department of Education Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Deb Delisle wrote that the Iowa Department of Education lacked the authority to enforce the requirement that teachers and principals be evaluated by student outcomes, among other factors. As a result, Iowa’s request for flexibility was not approved “at this time,” Delisle wrote, leaving open the possibility that Iowa’s request could be approved down the road in conjunction with certain changes by the state legislature.
A press release from the Iowa Department of Education said the “central stumbling block” in the state’s waiver request is a new statutory requirement passed by Iowa’s state legislature that said any changes to the system of educator evaluation must be approved by the state’s legislature.
In the waiver request, Glass requested the statutory authority to “develop frameworks for teacher and principal evaluations that differentiate performance using three levels and reflect multiple, valid measures, including data on student growth,” the press release notes. Instead, the legislature passed a bill directing a task force to study the issues and make recommendations for the 2013 legislative session.
“This was a missed opportunity for Iowa’s schools to find relief from a law that holds them to unrealistic measures and then blames them for failure,” Glass said. “We made it clear to the legislature in committee meetings and in writing that the Iowa Department of Education needed statutory authority to move forward on implementing a waiver-compliant evaluation system. The legislature did not follow through.”
Although its waiver request was not granted, Iowa received approval for a one-year freeze of the target increases to which schools are held under NCLB. According to a July 2 press release from the Iowa Department of Education, the percentage of Iowa’s students required to be proficient varies by grade level and subject but is generally around 80 percent. Had Iowa’s request for a one-year target freeze been denied, the state would have been required to increase student math and reading proficiency levels by about 7 percent.
The twenty-six states that have been approved for waivers from key provisions under NCLB are shown in green on the map to the right. The ten states (including Iowa) and the District of Columbia with outstanding requests for waivers are shown in yellow. The fourteen states (plus Puerto Rico) yet to receive waivers are shown in white.
States have until September 6 to apply for the next round of waivers.