Congressional Reauthorization of NCLB—F
State Efforts for Innovation in Schools—A
By Pam Goins, CSG Director of Education Policy
Under No Child Left Behind, 80 percent of America’s public schools would get an F.
That’s the grade U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan would give the schools based on NCLB, the 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Congress has failed to reauthorize the bill since that time.
President Obama released a blueprint in March 2010 emphasizing the goal for reauthorization: By 2020, all students will graduate ready to succeed in college and the workforce.
Efforts to pass the reauthorization failed. Although the House and Senate education committees have tossed around drafts, bipartisan language seems to be a difficult challenge for a reauthorization of the 10-year-old bill.
“The current No Child Left Behind law reminds me of the old Clint Eastwood movie, ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,’” Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna told the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in November. “The good is that it created a standards-based system where schools are accountable for every child. The bad is it is a one-size-fits-all model that is difficult to implement in rural states like Idaho. The ugly is the federal government now sets the goal and prescribes the programs we must use to meet that goal. If those programs don’t work, we are held accountable.”
Based on Congressional inaction on reauthorization, President Obama announced Sept. 23, 2011, that states could find their own path to a better grade in serving students—they can apply for waivers in exchange for committing to implement educational transformation initiatives to ensure students are college—and career-ready.
Duncan noted that states are moving past Congress and banding together to develop rigorous academic standards and assessments, next-generation accountability systems and teacher evaluation systems based in part on student achievement.
“Clearly, there’s tremendous urgency for reform at the local level because our economy and our future are directly tied to the quality of public education,” Duncan said in a November press release. “States and districts want flexibility from NCLB so they can make local decisions in the best interests of children—and they can’t wait any longer.”
To apply for the waiver, states must address four major areas:
College- and career-ready academic standards with aligned student assessments;
A rigorous state accountability system;
A plan to design, pilot and implement an educator evaluation system based on multiple measures, including student growth measures; and
A commitment to evaluate and refine state-level requirements such as reporting and administrative requests to reduce the burden on schools and local districts.
By November, 11 states—Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Tennessee—submitted official requests for waivers. Peer reviews will be completed soon and first-round states will be notified of their status by mid-January. Reviewers include representatives from local school districts, higher education and national education agencies.
Promising strategies are included in the state plans.
Minnesota is placing an emphasis on its state accountability system that will target both test scores and other measures of student growth, such as increasing achievement results of students of color. Under the current system, a majority of schools are labeled as failing because small groups of students didn’t meet their target scores in reading or math.
Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius has high hopes for the change.
“I think (the new system) will be a fairer, more accurate way to judge school performance. We recognize that proficiency is important, but it’s not the only factor that is important,” she told the Pioneer Press in St. Paul in November.
Schools like Eastview High School in Apple Valley, Minn., hope the state waiver request is approved. The school’s ACT scores and graduation rates are higher than the state and national averages, but certain student populations—such as low-income and students with disabilities—haven’t met their progress goals under NCLB standards and that puts the school on the state watch list.
Jane Berenz, superintendent of Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school district, noted the current system is unfair as it zeroes in on a few dozen students out of more than 2,000 in the school.
“If everyone is failing, then no one is failing,” she said. Putting schools on the state watch list for subpopulations that don’t meet Adequate Yearly Progress, known as AYP, doesn’t showcase the true achievement of the majority of the students in the school, she said.
Minnesota education officials propose that schools be assessed on a variety of measures, which would result in fewer schools facing sanctions if they didn’t meet their goals. This year, 1,056 schools didn’t make AYP and 442 of those receive federal funding specifically focused on strategies for low-income students. Under the proposed system changes, only about 130 schools would be identified as underperforming.
Kentucky state Sen. Mike Wilson noted the importance of state legislation in any education transformation at a recent Policy Academy for Newly Elected Legislators, sponsored by The Council of State Governments.
“If we didn’t have Senate Bill 1 in Kentucky, we’d be in a very different situation,” Wilson said of legislation enacted in 2011 that requires the state to begin a new assessment and accountability system. “The power of that legislation is driving our reform.”
Eleven states will find out shortly whether they can change their standards. But they won’t be the last to seek those changes; 39 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have stated their intent to request state flexibility from NCLB. The next deadline for waiver package applications is mid-February 2012, with an additional deadline later in the spring.