Seven advocacy and civil rights organizations, led by Washington-based The Education Trust, have called on Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to deny nine California districts a waiver from the No Child Left Behind law, saying any deviation from a statewide waiver “would be the wrong path forward.”
“Instead, we urge California’s district and state leaders to work together on a strong statewide application. And we urge the U.S. Department of Education to stand firm, both in its commitment to equity and its commitment to statewide accountability systems,” the organizations state in a letter sent to Duncan on Monday.
The nine districts, which have formed the California Office to Reform Education, or CORE, last month submitted a unique district application for a waiver that would give them more flexibility to enforce key provisions of NCLB while freeing them from some of its penalties. They would commit to improve the lowest performing schools, integrate test scores and other data into teacher evaluations and develop college and career standards. The districts are in the process of responding to a critique of their application by reviewers for the Department of Education and hope to have the waiver approved soon to take effect this fall.
Duncan already has granted 34 state waivers, with nine more under review. Last year, Duncan rejected California’s statewide waiver application, and the state has no application pending. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson told EdSource Today recently that discussions are continuing with Duncan’s staff.
The civil rights groups argue there is no replacement for a statewide accountability system that can “serve as a backstop to forces pressuring districts to sweep low performance under the rug … and declare that local schools are doing just fine.” Moreover, they write, “Moving away from a system of statewide accountability and state-led commitment to improving student outcomes will result in different expectations for students from one district to the next.”
Responding by email, CORE Executive Director Rick Miller noted that the CORE districts would open the waiver process to all California districts that agreed to adhere to the federal requirements. And he argued that CORE’s waiver application would commit to “robust accountability” for minority students, English learners and students with disabilities.
“We believe our application provides necessary innovation and is ultimately based on what’s best for students, not the protection of systems,” he wrote.
The seven groups signing the letter are Easter Seals, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, the National Indian Education Association, the National Women’s Law Center, the League of United Latin American Citizens, Democrats for Education Reform and The Education Trust, which is the parent group of Oakland-based Education Trust-West. (Update: As readers will note in a comment today elsewhere on this site, Gloria Romero, head of the California office of Democrats for Education Reform, said that the state group continues to support the CORE waiver application and that the Washington office of DFER did not consult with her before coming up with its position.)