Nine districts resubmit 'stronger' application for NCLB waiver

(This article has been updated.)

Nine California districts resubmitted their application Tuesday for a waiver from key provisions and sanctions of the No Child Left Behind law after spending weeks revising the application in response to dozens of questions by a panel of reviewers from the U.S. Department of Education.

Screen Shot 2013-05-28 at 5.14.54 PMIf approved, the application by members of the umbrella organization California Office to Reform Education, or CORE, would be a first. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has approved waivers for 37 states with eight more states under review. This would be the only waiver granted to a group of districts, albeit one serving more a million students, and the approach, based on collaboration among teachers and districts and an accountability system deemphasizing standardized test scores, would be distinct. The CORE applicants include some of the state’s largest unified districts – Los Angeles, Long Beach, Fresno, San Francisco, Sacramento City and Santa Ana – along with Clovis, Sanger and Oakland.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced last week that the state would not be submitting its request this year, eliminating a potential conflict with CORE – at least for next year – and making it easier for Duncan, who had been criticized by state chief education officers who are worried about the precedent of ceding state control to districts.

CORE officials expressed confidence that Duncan, who has final authority, will approve the waiver within weeks, in time for it to take effect in the fall.

The CORE districts are proposing a different school accountability system. Standardized test scores, now the sole factor in current state API system, would now be one of three components. It would be  included, along with the high school  graduation rate,  in the "academic domain," making up 60 percent of the index. Social/emotional learning factors and school climate measures each would comprise 20 percent.

The CORE districts are proposing a different school accountability system. Standardized test scores, now the sole factor in current state API system, would now be one of three components. It would be included, along with the high school graduation rate, in the “academic domain,” making up 60 percent of the index. Social/emotional learning factors and school climate measures each would comprise 20 percent.

Stating the revised application is stronger and clearer, CORE Executive Director Rick Miller said Tuesday, “We are optimistic it will get approved. We’ve had regular calls with them (federal education officials), sharing drafts back and forth, and have answered their questions. We’re not confident this is the last draft, but are confident we will get approval this coming school year.”

Under the application, any district or charter school in California that agreed to the conditions would also be eligible for a waiver, although Miller said he expects that most districts would have trouble acting in time for this fall.

A waiver would offer several advantages: It would stop the clock on NCLB’s implausible requirement that every student be proficient in math and English language by next year. It would free up for other uses more than $100 million in federal Title I money that the districts’ schools, under sanctions for not meeting academic targets, have had to use for after-school tutoring and transporting students to other schools. And it would let the districts create their own accountability system, based on a broader range of measures and data than NCLB currently demands, for raising student achievement and turning around the lowest performing schools.

Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson said the waiver offered an opportunity to “radically reorient” districts’ accountability systems toward a “holistic” approach to student achievement and school improvement. The focus will shift from compliance and sanctions to “assistance by peer educators, with shared responsibility” for improvement from teacher to teacher and school to school, he said.

In an 89-page evaluation completed in April, the panel of six federal reviewers requested more information on about 60 aspects of the application. They wanted more details particularly in three critical areas:

  • How districts would do annual teacher and principal evaluations that include the “significant” use of test scores to measure student academic growth, a waiver requirement:

This potentially presented the biggest obstacle, given resistance from teacher unions, which is a big factor that deterred Torlakson and the State Board from moving forward this year with a statewide waiver. CORE’s solution is to give districts two options to choose from.

One was lifted from Massachusetts’ waiver plan, which the federal government has approved and which may have the biggest appeal to districts in California. Results from standardized and other tests would not be used directly as a metric in an evaluation but would serve as a check. If test scores and an evaluation based on classroom observations and other criteria didn’t agree, the district would take a second look to identify the discrepancy and could create a one-year improvement plan for the teacher.

The second option would require that state standardized tests results would comprise a minimum of 20 percent of a teacher or principal evaluation, which, Miller said, should satisfy the definition of “significant.” Since it would be implemented in 2015-16, it would incorporate the new Common Core assessments, not the current state tests, the California Standards Tests. CORE plans to create its own method for determining how to measure student growth – a controversial and contentious issue. Districts with their own models, like Los Angeles Unified, could seek approval to use their variations from the CORE board of directors.

  • How, in the absence of state oversight, districts would account for student progress and fix schools needing improvement.

CORE is proposing its own school accountability system, called a School Quality Improvement Index, which would differ significantly from the state’s current Academic Performance Index, or API, based almost exclusively on results from the state tests. But it would be closer in line with the new API that the State Department of Education and the State Board are developing, under a new state law that limits tests scores to 60 percent of the API. CORE would include measurements of a school’s culture along with measures of social and emotional health of students, including factors like grit and determination that, Miller says, more fully reflect whether students are progressing toward the primary goal of college and career readiness. No other state is attempting to incorporate non-cognitive factors in its accountability system, according to Miller, and the federal reviewers questioned whether their inclusion would water down the academic measurements. As a result, Miller said that the application detailed the research showing the correlation between academic achievement and non-cognitive factors.

San Francisco Unified Superintendent Richard Carranza said work in his district has shown a correlation with early indicators of chronic absenteeism as a predictor of academic achievement, which educators have intuitively known. Codifying this factor into  an accountability system enables districts to get credit for effective interventions that they use, he said.

CORE’s accountability index would break down as follows:

  1. Academics, 60 percent: Along with scores from required standardized tests, graduation rates and middle school persistence – the rate of 8th graders who go on to 10th grade.
  2. Social and emotional factors, 20 percent: Chronic absenteeism rates; suspension/expulsion rates with a focus on ending disparities among ethnic and racial groups, and as yet undefined non-cognitive factors that will be tested next year.
  3. School culture and climate factors, 20 percent: Results of student, staff and parent surveys, English language redesignation rates, and rates of identifiying special education students.

CORE said that it plans to collect and publish more data than NCLB now requires, such as Advanced Placement test results and completion of A to G, the courses required to be eligible for admission to the University of California and California State University.

In addition, the CORE districts have decided to define 20 students as a subgroup within a school, compared with 100 students currently required under NCLB. Doing so will bring an additional 200,000 students into subgroup reports – an indication of CORE’s “commitment to shining a bright light” on data with the goal of ending racial and ethnic disparities in achievement, Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy said.

  • How CORE would ensure that other districts seeking a waiver would meet commitments under the waiver and, if they didn’t, force them to return to the old system under NCLB.

Hanson said the only requirements for admission would be districts’ commitment to share data and their expertise and their openness to use “the right drivers” for school improvement. The application provides more information on the process and timelines for applying for a waiver.

The federal reviewers frowned on one of CORE’s ideas that challenged NCLB’s key requirement: annual state standardized tests in English language arts and math for every student in grades 3 through 8, plus once in high school. CORE had proposed tests for accountability purposes in only the last grade of elementary and middle schools and in 11th grade. CORE has now dropped the idea.

But the thrust of CORE’s proposal, challenging NCLB’s test-based approach to accountability, remains intact. School districts living under the demands of NCLB  “have too often been chasing success in a system that does not define success in a comprehensive or rigorous way,” the application’s executive summary states.

CORE officials and the application have cited the progress over the past decade of the Province of Ontario, Canada, as a model, and the work of the architect of Ontario’s approach, author and education reformer Michael Fullan, as a guide. Fullan, who told EdSource Today he’d like to work with the CORE districts, calls his process “motivational collaboration;” it relies on giving teachers a leading role in school improvement and an extensive use of data, provided to the public.

Filed under: Common Core, Evaluations, Federal Education Policy, Hot Topics, State Education Policy, Teaching, Testing and Accountability

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6 Responses to “Nine districts resubmit 'stronger' application for NCLB waiver”

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  1. Lisa Alva on Dec 30, 2013 at 8:17 am12/30/2013 8:17 am

    • 000

    Mr. Fensterwald does a good job of summarizing the 400+ pages and analyzing the new set of rules we will presumably be living with next school year… oh, wait, we’re living under CORE right now! Several issues deserve to be called out – none of the CORE waiver has been negotiated with United Teachers Los Angeles, our teachers’ union in LAUSD. Evaluation is still a contentious issue here and has not been ironed out. Also, teachers at large are completely unaware of this waiver and its new set of accountabilities, which contradicts the requirements in the waver itself that communities be informed and consulted. One survey two years ago by a consulting group does not consensus make. Finally, there’s a line in the CORE waiver that reads that a school that fails to improve may be converted to a charter or closed, at the district’s option. The CORE waiver has all kinds of opportunities for new bureaucracy at the same time that it expects educators to do even more. $100 million in Title One flexibility? Sounds like a license to ill.


    • Manuel on Dec 31, 2013 at 2:00 pm12/31/2013 2:00 pm

      • 000

      We are half way into the 2013-14 year and LAUSD still has to disclose how it redirected the Title I flexibility funds and whether or not it is producing different results.

      Also, since test scores are central to LAUSD’s decision to “reconstitute” a given school, how is will this happen now that no scores will be available this year? LAUSD has yet to define how this will be done.

      I’d say that the waiver is just another distraction signifying nothing.

  2. Roberto Fonseca on Jun 1, 2013 at 2:03 am06/1/2013 2:03 am

    • 000

    The fundamental problem with all the Districts that are applying for waivers is their lack of: a)Individual/Collective responsibility,b)lack of accountability, c)lack of transparency, d)lack of accessibility and lack of monitoring. During times of plenty, these Districts, in particular Los Angeles Unified School District, failed consistently in raising student academic achievement yet received substantial federal funding. Hence, these Districts have no way of guaranteeing that our students will make significant gains in two fundamental areas: Math and English Arts. The problem lies not in the funding, but the appropriate utilization of those funds and the total lack of all the fundamental problems stated above. As a parent, I feel that all these Districts want is a way to get out of their responsibility in educating our children while blaming a law that although not perfect, had open the door to equitable treatment to all socio-economic disadvantage students. Last, these flexibilities, will give carte blanche to districts to eliminate parent voices expressed through school committees as is the case in Los Angeles where the committee assigned to oversee Title I funding, was totally eliminated, yet the District continue receving Federal funding. Why is that? Does not district proud themselves in saying that “parents are equal partners” Then, why eliminate the partner. Just for one reason, to avoid scrutiny and being held accountable with the utilization of such funds.


    • navigio on Jun 2, 2013 at 2:07 am06/2/2013 2:07 am

      • 000

      The SSC oversees title 1 funding, are you saying LAUSD eliminated SSCs in their schools?

      Although I dont disagree with the spirit of your post, I do have to ask how we should quantify ‘raising student achievement’. The fact is, since 2003, CST proficiency rates in LAUSD have increased for every single possible subgroup. Overall, in most grades they have at least doubled, and in some cases more than tripled. The increases are even more dramatic for hispanic and african american students, especially in middle school math.

      This is not to say that CST proficiency rates are necessarily the appropriate way to measure ‘success’, nor is it to imply that even with increases, current rates are acceptable, but I dont think its really possible to claim there was a consistent failure in raising academic achievement. By this measure at least, its clearly not true.

      If you have an alternative metric on which to base that claim, then I’m all ears. :-)

  3. George Buzzetti on May 30, 2013 at 1:27 pm05/30/2013 1:27 pm

    • 000

    This is the typical insanity you would expect from LAUSD who has a superintendent with a phony PHD and work record. They will do anything to avoid accountability. Make up your own rules by those who are proven losers in education. LAUSD has over 117,000 students who did not come to school everyday last year and LAUSD lost over $1.3 billion in revenue as a result as you only get paid for those who come to school. Where did these people get the name CORE as that is the name of a national group and we are CORE-CA for a long time. Can’t they dream up their own name? CORE-CA has nothing to do with CORE. We fight for accountability and communities and they do just the opposite. Please do not mix up the two. The founding King Family of L.A., not MLK, has over 114 years of continuous civil rights. I do not think that CORE has that or anyone else for that matter.

  4. Bruce William Smith on May 29, 2013 at 2:11 pm05/29/2013 2:11 pm

    • 000

    There is more good than bad in this iteration of the CORE proposal, and I look forward to seeing further revisions. Nonetheless, this is debate about marginal issues; the central story here is the continuing failure of our federal government to add value to our educational efforts. This failure resides centrally in No Child Left Behind, which has demonstrably failed, and in Congress’s failure to reauthorize that failure over the last six years, when it has been legally required to do so.

    The correct path forward is to repeal NCLB and to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act with an alternative approach to school reform, one that would adapt the United Kingdom’s Education Act 2011 to our American conditions by introducing or reinforcing the concept of qualifications, which America has largely ignored by deciding that the only qualification for federal student aid is poverty, rather than earned desert.

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