California may seek a waiver from No Child Left Behind law — on its own terms

Photo by Phil Dowsing Creative

Photo by Phil Dowsing Creative


UPDATE:  The State Board of Education approved seeking an NCLB waiver under Section 9401 of the law on May 10, 2012. 

The California Department of Education is recommending that California apply for a waiver from the most onerous conditions of the No Child Left Behind law — but not under the conditions set by the Obama administration under a waiver program it announced last fall.

Instead, California would apply to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for a waiver under a separate section of the decade-old NCLB law — Section 9401  — which allows whoever is secretary to grant waivers on a case by case basis.

The California State Board of Education, almost all whose members are appointed by Governor Jerry Brown, will take up the matter at its regular meeting in Sacramento next week.

Under the recommendation made by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, the state would operate under its own system of measuring student growth and performance, not one dictated by Washington that continues to label ever larger number of California schools as failures.

Included in the recommendation Torlakson has sent to the board is a draft letter that  the board would send to the Acting Assistant Secretary of Education for Elementary and Secondary Education Michael Yudin.  Earlier this year Yudin travelled from Washington to try to persuade the board — apparently unsuccessfully — that the requirements set by the administration to receive a waiver were not as onerous as they appeared to be to many in California.

According to those involved in the discussions,  Governor Brown strongly supports the state-directed approach recommended to the State Board and closely followed the discussions surrounding it.  He also discussed the matter directly with  Sec. Duncan when he was in Washington earlier this year.

The draft letter states that it would be impossible for California or its school districts “to implement the requirements of the Secretary’s waiver package effectively and within the required timeline, and we are not willing to make promises that we are unable to carry out.”

The draft letter makes the case that rather than lagging behind the rest of the nation when it comes to “reform” and accountability, California would once again assume a leadership role:

Just as California led the way in developing emissions standards that were ultimately adopted across the nation, we now want to lead the nation in education accountability and student learning as well. As we approach reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we believe that our state system of accountability provides a strong model for national consideration.

The recommendations that the board will consider were shaped by two meetings held on March 2 and April 17 at the Sacramento offices of WestEd, a leading research and policy organization. Participants included representatives of most major education organizations, including the California Teachers Association and the Association of California School Administrators, school district officials from San Diego to Ukiah, as well as state education officials.

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Education awarded a total of 351 waivers under the provisions of Section 9401, but often for relatively minor aspects of the law. But last year, it granted Colorado’s request for a more comprehensive waiver of key NCLB provisions under Section 9401 of the law which bears some similarity to the waiver being requested by California.

As explained in the materials to be considered by the State Board next week, California would ask for  a waiver to achieve three goals. One would be to “end the ineffective practice of over-identifying schools and districts for program improvement” — one that effectively labels them as failing. Another would be to give districts greater flexibility in how they spend federal funds.  Finally,  California would  “transition to a single accountability system.”

As the draft document states, California would “after more than a decade of living under two conflicting accountability systems, return to a single system that works,” along with ending the practice of labelling increasing numbers of schools as being “in need of program improvement.”

At the meetings convened by WestEd, participants raised numerous concerns regarding the requirements set by Secretary Duncan for states to qualify for his waiver program.  These included:

  • Concerns that relief from the NCLB law would not be provided until the 2013–14 school year;
  •  To receive a waiver, California would have to put in place initiatives that might not be compatible   with whatever Congress does whenever it gets around to reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act;
  •  Setting up new evaluation systems for teachers and principals linked to student growth and test scores would be “contentious and distract from more positive initiatives”;
  • The accelerated timeline for implementing Common Core State Standards (CCSS) called for in the administration’s waiver proposal “would not be  programmatically or fiscally feasible.”
  • Implementing of the administration’s waiver package would be costly — possibly running into the billions of dollars according to earlier state estimates.




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2 Responses to “California may seek a waiver from No Child Left Behind law — on its own terms”

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  1. M. Backes on May 7, 2012 at 8:45 pm05/7/2012 8:45 pm

    • 000

    I find it interesting that Mr. Torlakson would describe California as a model for leadership in education. California has not earned the the right to arrogantly call ourselves leaders in education when we know full well that among all of the states of our nation we are wallowing in the muck of the bottom of the barrel in terms of how much we spend on students per year. Leaders don’t wallow, they rise. Not that California is to be rebuked for it’s standing. It’s almost impossible for any state to successfully work within the design of the American public education system. Our system is deathly ill, suffering from a degenerative disease that has gone untreated for far too long. Interestingly, the approach to addressing the many needs of our American education system is very similar to the way our country approaches the nationwide epidemic of obesity. Rather than treat or eradicate the cause of the problem, Americans seem to insist on their devotion to treating the symptoms. If California truly wants to be considered a forerunner in education it should start at the beginning by working towards better teacher preparation and development. We can assess all we want in every different configuration you can imagine but, if we continue to fill our ranks with ill-prepared teachers who are not equipped to positively impact student learning then we will continue to see desperately disappointing results in student performance. We need to stop treating the symptoms associated with the disease of a broken system and begin to heal from the inside out. Want to be a leader, California? I dare you.

  2. Ronarae (Rae) Adams on May 4, 2012 at 12:56 pm05/4/2012 12:56 pm

    • 000

    First, leadership defined by position (first, in front of, behind) may not be an argument CA should present to earn a customized waiver from Arne. In relationship to other states, CA educators have much to learn, to embrace and to reflect in reshaping our entire educational system, not just a focus on our accountability system. I “hear” the excitement and determination to request a modified waiver to better meet the needs and goals that were outlined by the group. Yes, we should be proud of our bold and successful CA initiatives around standards for students, CSTP standards and TPAs, which serve as models for other states, but we have a “habit” of sounding arrogant and resistant to “disruptive innovations” that present wrinkles and waves in “our” designs and operations. I agree with many of the excellent points that represent rationale to request a modification, as outlined by many stakeholders who gathered to develop the letter. The timelines don’t have to be obstacles, but should guide us to think critically to prioritize efforts and fiscal resources in order to move toward the real goal of the wavier for ESEA: Bottom line, collectively, we are obligated to demonstrate evidence that every child learns, every day every year. Are we so sure that our current standards, assessments, credentialing processes and professional development pathways and evaluation measures reveal and result in highly effective teachers, leaders and students who are prepared for college? Less resistance and greater inquiry into new ways to collaborate with a range of stakeholders, across states might offer welcomed opportunities to implement more relevant, flexible, coherent systems that support more rapid responses and solutions to the needs of our CA students. We’re all learning anytime and everywhere and therefore students, policy makers, teachers, administrators, higher educators, families, community members, ed organizations and associations have equal access to information and knowledge. We are becoming more informed, inspired and empowered to innovate, with or without waivers in place… CA is a participant in the CCSSO –SCEE state consortium work that aims to unite states in collaborative efforts to share resources, models, designs, data, in very transparent ways. Maybe CAs Theory of Action plan should be in alignment with the wavier—to demonstrate our forward thinking for the purpose of demonstrating our commitment to students. Our most accomplished teachers are the ones who are really out in front… Ignoring labels, budget cuts, policies, and focusing on meeting the needs of individual kids; collaborating with colleagues, studying content, selecting aligned resources and assessing progress to advance their students’ learning, each and every day. So many CA teachers are already implementing the Common Core… Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to add some of these reflections in the request. CA

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