In September 2011, with the U.S. Congress unable to pass legislation to rewrite and renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—currently known as No Child Left Behind—President Obama outlined a plan to provide states with waivers from specific provisions of the law in exchange for state-led reform efforts to close achievement gaps, evaluate teachers and principals, promote rigorous accountability, and ensure that all students are on track to graduate ready for college and a career. Since then, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has approved waiver requests from forty-one states and the District of Columbia.
On August 29, ED announced that thirty-four states1 and the District of Columbia—places where ESEA waivers will expire at the end of School Year (SY) 2013–14—can request a two-year renewal to extend the waivers through the end of SY 2015–16.
“America’s most sweeping education law—the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind—is outmoded and constrains state and district efforts for innovation and reform. The smartest way to fix that is through a reauthorized ESEA law, but Congress has not agreed on a responsible bill,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Therefore, the federal government has worked with states to develop waiver agreements that unleash local leaders’ energy for change and ensure equity, protect the most vulnerable students, and encourage standards that keep America competitive. The waiver renewal process announced [on August 29] will support states in continuing positive change and ensuring all children receive a high-quality education—but I look forward to a day when we can announce a new ESEA law that supports every state.”
According to guidance released by ED, states seeking a renewal must (1) describe how the state will continue to meet the original requirements for receiving a waiver; (2) demonstrate that the waivers have been effective in enabling the state to carry out the activities for which the waivers were requested; (3) show that waivers have contributed to improved student achievement; and (4) explain how an extension is in the public’s best interest.
The guidance clarifies requirements regarding graduation rates, including a requirement that states use the four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate to a significant degree in state-developed system of differentiated recognition, accountability, and support, including using graduation rate targets for all students and for all subgroups to drive incentives, interventions, and support in all other Title I schools. In addition, the guidance requires states to provide interventions and support for low-achieving students in Title I schools when one or more subgroups miss graduation rate goals or annual targets over a number of years. This policy is particularly important in order to address the Alliance’s finding in its recent report, The Effect of ESEA Waiver Plans on High School Graduation Rate Accountability, that eleven states with waivers have either no or minimal accountability for subgroup graduation rates.
The guidance also contains new language on teacher quality, including a requirement that states use effectiveness data from teacher and principal evaluation systems to ensure that low-income students and students of color are not taught by inexperienced, ineffective, or out-of-field teachers at higher rates than other students. It also requires that federally funded professional development be evidence-based and used to deepen educators’ knowledge of college- and career-ready standards and the instructional practices, curricula, and high-quality assessments tied to those standards. Additionally, states must provide a high-quality plan to turn around priority schools in SYs 2014–15 and 2015–16 and explain how they will identify future priority schools.
All requests for renewal of ESEA flexibility must be received no later than February 21, 2014. If a state’s renewal request is not renewed, the state and the school district must resume complying with all ESEA requirements by the beginning of SY 2014–15.
Additional guidance from ED is available at
1 The thirty-four states eligible for a renewal are: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.