8/16/11 Schools eye waiver from No Child Left Behind

Schools eye waiver from No Child Left Behind
Education secretary announced possible exemptions last week
By Mike Wilder The Times-News 8/16/11     
Reprinted with permission.

 A potential waiver that would excuse North Carolina’s public schools from having to meet federal No Child Left Behind requirements has state and local education leaders interested.

 If a waiver were granted, the state’s school systems and charter public schools would no longer have to meet the annual goal of adequate yearly progress. To make that goal, a certain percentage of students are required to show proficiency in reading and math each year. That’s the case not only for each school as a whole, but for groups within a school, including different ethnic groups, students from low-income families, English-as-a-second-language speakers and students with disabilities.

 Unless a school meets targets for students in every group, it fails to make annual yearly progress. For schools that receive federal Title One money based on the percentage of low-income students, that can mean penalties including a requirement that families be allowed to send their children to another school.

 But there are also questions about whether the waivers would be legitimate and what they would mean for states that received them.

 U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced last week the department will offer waivers to states willing to commit to the Obama administration’s reforms. Some critics have said the move goes beyond what is allowed minus congressional action. Others have questioned whether schools would be better off being tied to a new set of goals and related accountability measures.

 The much newer federal Race to the Top initiative introduced under Obama and Duncan, for example, provides money to low-performing schools while giving systems limited choices in how to make improvements. Eastlawn Elementary School chose a plan that required it to replace its principal before the start of the 2011-12 school year. One choice the school system decided against would have required replacing part of the school’s staff.

 Vanessa Jeter, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, said late Thursday she thinks the state is preparing to apply for a waiver, though she did not know details.

 Jackie Cole, the local school board’s chairwoman, said she’s heard interest among the state’s school systems in the state applying for a waiver. She mentioned that includes an awareness of the political discussion about whether the executive branch would be going beyond its authority.

 Passed in 2001, the No Child Left Behind law says all students have to be proficient in reading and math by the end of the 2013-14 school year.

 That’s clearly unrealistic, school board member Kristen Moffitt said during a work session discussion this week about student test scores used by both the federal and state governments to measure academic progress.

 Moffitt said more reasonable assessments would help reflect progress of students with issues that may limit their academic success, such as those with disabilities. While all students can achieve something, not all can reach the same level, she and other board members said.

 Superintendent Lillie Cox has said she’d like to see No Child Left Behind changed to measure academic progress of individual students from year to year.

 Board member Mary Erwin said she’s hopeful the state will apply for and receive a waiver. She noted the state’s system of measuring student progress was in place before No Child Left Behind. Coupled with participation in Race to the Top efforts, she thinks the state’s efforts to measure and improve academic performance put it in a good position to receive a waiver.