Eight California school districts—and their 1 million students—that refused to take no for an answer from the federal government will receive waivers from the No Child Left Behind program and relief from some of its most onerous requirements.
Until now, only states could receive a waiver from the 2002 law passed under President George W. Bush, and California had been rejected, based on its unwillingness to accept certain federal standards, including the use of standardized student test scores as part of teacher and administrator evaluations. The decision potentially cost the state millions of dollars in federal aid.
But U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced Tuesday that the districts, which banded together in their application, had been granted their own waivers. The eight districts are: Los Angeles, Long Beach, Fresno, San Francisco, Sacramento, Oakland, Sanger and Santa Ana. Teacher unions and the state Department of Education were generally not happy that the districts cut a separate deal.
The districts will be answerable to their own board of directors and are known collectively as the California Office to Reform Education (CORE). They pledged to adopt a version of teacher evaluations and a measure of school success based on a range of factors like graduation rates, absenteeism, school culture, and surveys of students and parents that is acceptable to the feds. CORE’s approach is far broader than the federal focus on standardized test scores.
CORE will also use a more flexible measure of minority group presence that makes it easier for them to be counted when evaluating the overall performance of a school.
No Child Left Behind set ridiculous standards for academic achievement that required virtually every state in the country to apply for a waiver to avoid draconian federal penalties. It was estimated a year ago that 80% of public schools nationwide—more in California—would miss academic proficiency requirements of the law by the 2013 deadline.
The federal government used those standards and the waiver process to force states into accepting federal policies across a range of education issues.
The U.S. Department of Education was loath to cut a separate deal with school districts, fearing that instead of working with 50 states it would have to deal with 50,000 separate boards. But Duncan said “it was simply the right thing to do.” The waiver kicks in this coming school year, and the department said it did not expect the districts to have formalized the required policies in time for its start.
He gave them one year to implement a teacher evaluation plan and school-rating system. In the meantime, the districts will have an additional $150 million, according to Education Week.