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ESEA/NCLB Update #200

ED issues rules for renewal of NCLB waivers through 2018-2019

The Department of Education (ED) released several documents providing guidance for states seeking to renew their NCLB waivers this spring. The guidance continues the waiver program’s prescriptive conditions, sets forth a few new requirements for struggling schools, invites requests for overall plan amendments and additional teacher evaluation flexibility, and establishes overall timelines for renewal applications and waiver duration.

In a letter to Chief State School Officers, ED invited those states with waivers expiring at the end of SY 2014–2015 to request, by March 31, 2015, a three-year renewal that will run through SY 2017–2018. Window 1 and 2 states approved in SY 2012–2013 that are meeting all commitments can request a special four-year renewal through SY 2018–2019 and can participate in an expedited review if they submit requests by January 30, 2015.

According to an ED fact sheet, state renewal requests must include, among other requirements

  • Details on how the state consulted with key groups on the implementation of ESEA flexibility and the changes the state is proposing to make to its currently approved flexibility request, including local districts, teachers and their representatives, administrators . . . ;
  • A description of how the state will continue to ensure that all students graduate from high school ready for college and a career . . . ;
  • A demonstration that a school may not receive the highest rating in the state's accountability system if there are significant achievement or graduation rate gaps in the school that are not closing;
  • A description of interventions in the state's lowest-performing schools and schools with the largest-achieving gaps, including how the state will identify priority and focus schools that have not met targets, and how the state will increase the rigor of interventions and supports in those schools;
  • A clear and rigorous process for providing interventions and supports to other Title I schools and supports for low-achieving students in those schools that consistently miss benchmarks;
  • A description of a statewide strategy to support and monitor district implementation of a system ensuring all students—no matter their zip code—are being served well and that districts are held accountable for their success.

The fact sheet reiterates ED’s August offer of additional time to incorporate data from new assessments into teacher evaluation, and also invites states to submit requests for any additional needed flexibility in the implementation of teacher evaluation requirements.

The requirements and offers outlined in the fact sheet are officially set out in a more detailed document, "ESEA Flexibility: Guidance for Renewal Process," and in a renewal form for states (ED promises an "FAQ" sheet and webinars for states as well). The renewal form’s list of provisions that can be waived would now allow states to use ESEA Section 1003(a) funds not only for priority and focus schools, but for other struggling Title I schools once priority and focus schools are adequately funded. The form also invites states to apply to use an "advanced, high school level assessment" in mathematics for advanced junior high school math students instead of existing tests to avoid double-testing. The renewal form also emphasizes that English Language Proficiency assessments aligned with state ELP standards must be administered no later than SY 2015–2016.

NEA released a response to the announcement, expressing disappointment that ED did not do more to move toward a student-centered approach focused on learning "We were looking for the Department of Education to provide common-sense flexibility from more of NCLB’s mandates that do not support student learning," said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. "Today’s guidance could have provided hope for educators and students who want to focus primarily on teaching and learning rather than high-stakes standardized tests." Eskelsen García commended a focus in the renewal documents on increasing district capacity to improve schools.

ED approves New Mexico, New Jersey waiver extensions

ED approved two more waiver extensions for this school year—New Mexico and New Jersey.

According to ED, the two states join 32 other waiver extension recipients: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.

Louisiana appears to be the only Window 1 or 2 state waiting to hear about waiver extension. Oklahoma was earlier turned down for an extension and is now reapplying.

Obama announces new ConnectED initiatives

President Obama announced new digital learning initiatives at a White House "ConnectED to the Future" conference Wednesday. Meeting with school leaders and educators, Obama commended the more than 1,200 superintendents who have joined the Administration’s Future Ready District Pledge to advance digital learning. According to a White House fact sheet, the conference also featured actions and commitments from private and nonprofit partners and ED, including:

  • ED issued guidance to support technology and digital learning as an allowable use of federal funds.
  • ED issued a new technical assistance guide that "outlines specific and tangible examples that will help schools improve their technological infrastructure by getting high-speed broadband Internet connectivity to and throughout schools, choosing devices for learning and establishing policy and procedures for their use."
  • ED issued a technical assistance toolkit that "provides rubrics, checklists and examples to assist district teams as they develop, refine, and evaluate professional learning plans that align with their capacity, learning goals, and standards of professional learning."
  • ED will host 12 regional summits for Future Ready school districts in partnership with the Alliance for Excellent Education
  • EdX will provide free online coursework, including free course certificates to teachers and high-school students in high-need schools. Coursera will provide free online professional development courses for two years, including completion certificates.

Wednesday’s announcements expand on the Administration’s ConnectED initiative announced by the President in June. Since that announcement, both the FCC and private sector companies have taken steps to advance high-speed connectivity in our schools.

To learn about NEA’s policies on digital learning, click here.

GAO faults Bureau of Indian Education school oversight

A new U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study finds that the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) lacks sufficient staff with expertise to oversee the expenditures of BIE schools, partly due to budget and staffing cuts, does not have processes to ensure that funds are spent correctly, and does not have written procedures describing how staff should monitor school spending. BIE schools serve approximately 41,000 students. In a response letter included as an appendix to the study, the BIE largely concurs with GAO’s calls for improvement, and refers to broader efforts by the Department of Interior to improve the BIE, including a Blueprint for Reform and a Secretarial Order to redesign the BIE into a school improvement organization.

Take action: Tell Congress to pass the FY 2015 government funding bill

Tell Congress to pass a full-year "omnibus" bill for FY 2015 that prioritizes formula grant programs for students most in need, including Title I and IDEA. Schools and students don’t deserve another short-term Congressional budget fix.

Published November 21, 2014

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