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.