Calif. Districts Seeking Waiver From Ed. Dept.

By Lesli A. Maxwell — January 15, 2013 2 min read
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UPDATE: An official in the U.S. Department of Education said that they are exploring the possibility of granting a waiver to a group of eight school districts in California that will soon seek a reprieve from provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act after the state’s attempt to do so was denied.

The department official said one advantage of such a tailored waiver is the number of students it would cover—roughly 1 million—could be enough to make it worth the “headache of tailoring something for them.” Still, the official said, “this is not an easy thing to do,” meaning that the political fallout could be dicey for the department as my Politics K-12 colleague Alyson Klein explains very well.

Eight California school districts—including Los Angeles Unified—are crafting their own plan to seek a waiver from certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, after U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan turned down the state’s waiver request last month.

Duncan has said that he is open to the idea of issuing waivers to local districts once all of the states have gone through the pipeline for consideration.

John Deasy, the Los Angeles superintendent, said in an interview with Education Week on Monday that the eight districts—which banded together nearly two years ago to form a nonprofit organization known as CORE—that a “tremendous amount of work” has already been done on the waiver plan and that the districts believe it is “good, if not better than those that have already been approved.” Deasy said that CORE—which stands for California Office to Reform Education—had not yet submitted its waiver plan to the Education Department, but planned to do so soon. (John Fensterwald at EdSource also reported this on his blog this morning.)

Besides Los Angeles, the CORE districts include Long Beach, Fresno, Sacramento, San Francisco, Oakland, along with Sanger Unified and Clovis Unified, two districts near Fresno in the San Joaquin Valley. Combined, the districts educate more than 1 million students.

California’s waiver denial by the Education Department last month was no surprise, but was still jarring, given its size and influence. The state refused to embrace a teacher evaluation system that takes student outcomes into account, which is one of three major requirements of receiving a waiver.

The CORE districts—which initially came together to work on implementing the Common Core State Standards—have already been working on a number of reform initiatives including teacher and administrator evaluations that have put the districts on a faster-track path than the rest of the state, Deasy said. The districts are already using student test data as one measure of teacher accountability, Deasy said.

“In a state this big, we are saying, ‘Please let this group of districts work at the edges where we think the best work can happen for students, even if the state isn’t there yet,’” Deasy said.

Deasy acknowledged the dilemma that issuing waivers to a group of local districts might create for the Education Department. “It’s not our goal to create a waiver that’s a genie out of the bottle. Our collaboration would actually be bigger than many states.”

Politics K-12 blogger Michele McNeil contributed to this report.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.