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ESEA/NCLB Update #122

President Obama announces plan to give states short-term relief from NCLB

Expressing concern over the negative impacts of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the inability of Congress to reauthorize the law, President Obama announced on September 23 that the Administration would give states the opportunity to apply for regulatory flexibility in meeting the mandates of NCLB. Speaking in the East Room of the White House to education stakeholders, Obama said that “starting today, we’ll be giving states more flexibility to meet high standards. Keep in mind, the change we’re making is not lowering standards; we’re saying we’re going to give you more flexibility to meet high standards.” NEA has long sought increased state and local flexibility in addressing NCLB’s unreasonable mandates, and President Dennis Van Roekel applauded the new flexibility plan: “President Obama has taken a welcome step forward with this plan. It sets much more realistic goals for schools, while maintaining ESEA’s original commitment to civil rights, high academic standards and success for every student.” Van Roekel added that “NEA will continue to work with Congress and push for comprehensive NCLB reauthorization.” 

ED releases detailed rules governing state flexibility plans

According to the Department of Education (ED), the flexibility plan announced by President Obama will include waivers from several key NCLB requirements, including:

  • States will be able to set ‘ambitious but achievable’ targets for growth rather than meeting a static and arbitrary benchmark by 2014
  • States, districts, and schools will receive relief from NCLB’s labels and most one-size-fits-all interventions
  • States, districts, and schools will gain increased flexibility to propose school improvement strategies that work for their students
  • Local Education Agencies (LEAs) that do not meet highly qualifiePteacher (HQT) targets will no longer have to develop improvement plans

To be granted relief, a state must, among other things:

  • Adopt college- and career-ready standards in reading/language arts and mathematics, and develop new assessment systems
  • Develop a new system of differentiated recognition, accountability and support for schools
  • Develop and implement, with the involvement of teachers and principals, teacher and principal evaluation and support systems

The new accountability system for schools must provide rigorous support and intervention for the lowest 5 percent of schools (Priority Schools), and targeted strategies for another 10 percent of schools identified because of low graduation rates, large achievement gaps, or low student subgroup performance (Focus Schools). Schools that are performing well or making progress will be designated as Reward Schools.

States are invited to apply for waivers by November 14, 2011, for a December peer review, and by mid-February for a spring peer review. An additional opportunity to apply may be provided after the end of the 2011-2012 school year. ED will retain final approval over the waiver requests. Once approved, the waivers will be in effect through 2013-2014, after which states can ask for extensions.

ED provides resources to answer questions about waiver plans

The new waiver program is naturally raising a lot of questions in the states. ED is responding with explanatory documents, meetings with stakeholders, technical assistance, and webinars. Some key resources released so far include:

  • ESEA Flexibility — the main description of the waiver program
  • ESEA Flexibility Request — the information states will have to provide
  • Letter to Chief State School Officers — the official notice to states
  • ESEA Flexibility Webinar: an Overview — a PowerPoint outline of the plan
  • ESEA Flexibility Webinar: an Overview (WAV) — the sound files for the PowerPoint
  • www.ed.gov/esea/flexibility — ED’s main flexibility web page
  • Review guidance — guidance for peer reviewers in evaluating state requests
  • ED is also taking technical questions at ESEAflexibility@ed.gov

Harkin schedules markup of major ESEA reauthorization bill

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, announced that a markup on a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) will take place on October 18. Last week, in a statement on the Administration’s waiver program, Harkin mentioned that he was hopeful about the prospects for a bill. Harkin said that for the last two years he has worked in a bipartisan fashion to reauthorize ESEA and has met with Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY) on a regular basis since February to negotiate a bill. Details of the proposed bill have not been released.

Study finds little resistance to common core standards

The Center on Education Policy recently released a report on the state of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) implementation in school districts within the 43 states (as well as the District of Columbia) that have adopted the CCSS. A key finding of the report, Common Core State Standards: Progress and Challenges in Implementation, is that there is little resistance to the standards from teachers or parents. Another major conclusion is that districts view financial constraints as the main impediment to rolling out the standards. A disappointing finding was that more administrative staff than teachers participated in state-sponsored information sessions. One possible reading of this finding is that teachers are supportive of the standards but are not being asked to take substantive roles in standards implementation by some states at this time.

NEA says poverty data should serve as a wakeup call

Poverty is on the increase in the United States, according to a recent Census Bureau report, with 46.2 million Americans in poverty in 2010, including 16.4 million children. “Every day in America, more and more children are going to bed hungry and waking up not knowing where their next meal is going to come from or where they’re going to sleep at night,” responded NEA President Dennis Van Roekel in a statement. Van Roekel said the report should serve as a wakeup call to policy makers and elected leaders. “We need to protect the social safety net that keeps millions of families from falling further into poverty, and we should demand that politicians work together to put people back to work right away.”

Study estimates elementary, junior and high school dropout prevention services

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has released estimates of services and programs provided by public school districts to students who are struggling or at risk of dropping out. The survey found, for example, that districts offered the following in at least one of their elementary, middle or junior high, and high schools specifically to help students at risk of dropping out: “tutoring (75, 79, and 84 percent, respectively), summer school (54, 58, and 67 percent, respectively), remediation classes (61, 69, and 79 percent, respectively), guided study hall/academic support (36, 63, and 70 percent, respectively), alternative schools or programs (20, 44, and 76 percent, respectively), and after-school programs (42, 45, and 45 percent, respectively).” For information on NEA’s recommendations on increasing graduation rates, see NEA’s “12-Point Action Plan for Reducing the School Dropout Rate.”

ED extends deadline for State Fiscal Stabilization Fund data

ED has issued an interim final rule extending the deadline by which States have to report data and other information on State Fiscal Stabilization Fund indicators and descriptors “[S]tates have faced many challenges and competing priorities in trying to meet the requirements of some of the SFSF indicators by the September 30, 2011 deadline,” ED explained. “As a result, a number of States will be unable to comply fully with the SFSF requirements by the September 30, 2011 deadline.” ED said that the new deadline is January 31, 2012. The agency will consider comments on its decision that are submitted by October 24.

Take Action: Tell Congress to Pass the American Jobs Act

The fight continues to pass President Obama’s American Jobs Act, which would invest billions of dollars to save educator jobs and repair and modernize school facilities. Tell Congress to put Americans back to work and ensure our children the education they deserve by supporting the President’s American Jobs Act.

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