Superintendents representing a coalition of 10 California school districts are scheduled to meet with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan today to make a personal pitch for a district waiver from provisions of No Child Left Behind, which they plan to formally submit next week.
February 28 is the deadline for the handful of remaining states that don’t already have a waiver approved or pending to apply for relief from some of the most punitive aspects of the federal education law in exchange for developing their own accountability systems. Duncan rejected California’s waiver application after the state applied under a different section of federal law rather than agree to conditions that the Obama administration set. State officials have said they don’t intend to reapply.
The 10 districts that make up the California Office to Reform Education (CORE) say they decided to move ahead with their submission, even without the backing of the State Department of Education or, for now, Gov. Brown, because the current accountability system isn’t working for students or teachers, and the unrealistic deadline for schools to have every student at proficient or better is approaching. If there’s no relief by the end of the 2014-15 school year, nearly every school in the state will be in Program Improvement.
“We’re not trying to be waived from No Child Left Behind, but to a richer and more complete system of accountability that we think will be better for each individual community,” said Fresno Unified Superintendent Mike Hanson, who will be attending the meeting with Sec. Duncan along with superintendents John Deasy of Los Angeles Unified, Richard Carranza of San Francisco and Christopher Steinhauser of Long Beach Unified. NCLB’s one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work, said Hanson.
The other districts in CORE, all K-12, are Sacramento City, Oakland, Clovis, Santa Ana, Sanger and Garden Grove. Together, they serve about 1.2 million students, more than 20 percent of the state’s public school enrollment. Because of those numbers, officials in the U.S. Department of Education have said that CORE’s application merits a serious look.
That’s one argument that CORE will use to make its case to the Secretary. “This isn’t a district application,” LAUSD’s Deasy told EdSource Today. “It’s a consortia waiver with more students than most states. We feel we must lead on behalf of the students who need this.”
One of the challenges CORE will face is that it will have to agree to teacher evaluations that include the use of test scores as part of a measure of student performance. Deasy said the
recent agreement between the district and the teachers union will satisfy that requirement for LA Unified. Like the state waivers, every district in CORE would have to agree to its own evaluation system, but would have a year to implement it.
Deasy and the other superintendents are keenly interested in the financial flexibility a waiver would bring, allowing them to use some of their federal Title I funds for programs and professional development that directly help students and teachers succeed. That would free up nearly $110 million in the 10 districts, $80 million of it in LAUSD.
Currently, schools in Program Improvement – meaning they haven’t met the goals of adequate yearly progress under NCLB – have to set aside 20 percent of their Title I funds to pay for supplemental educational services (SES), such as tutoring and remedial education, and school choice. SES is provided by private organizations after school and on weekends for students whose parents choose it. However, superintendents say there’s little oversight or evaluation of the effectiveness of these programs.
California has authorized more than 260 private companies and school districts to provide supplemental educational services and has terminated 40. In a 2006 case in Fresno, a provider signed up 540 families by promising to give each student a PalmPilot and administer the lessons through those devices or by telephone without holding in-person sessions, at a cost of nearly $740,000.
An internal analysis by Los Angeles Unified found low participation rates, with only about 13 percent of eligible students taking advantage of it, a small impact on academic achievement and “a significant variation in the impact of SES programs across providers.”
Deasy said he could make better use of that money by putting it into summer school, which has been cut from $40 million to $1 million, delivering professional development on Common Core implementation and providing tutoring for students who need help meeting the district’s new requirement that all students, beginning with the class of 2017, qualify for admission to a four-year state university. Fewer than a third of LAUSD students graduating in 2011 met that requirement.
Critics warn that a waiver for CORE could set a precedent that would potentially open the process to hundreds of districts in states without waivers, creating an unmanageable situation for the federal government and usurping the authority of state governments. The CORE superintendents will have 90 minutes with Duncan today to respond to those concerns and make the case why their idea is distinct.