Blog

Your Education Road Map

Politics K-12®

ESSA. Congress. State chiefs. School spending. Elections. Education Week reporters keep watch on education policy and politics in the nation’s capital and in the states.

Education

California Readies Own Waiver Request

By Alyson Klein — May 04, 2012 3 min read

So far, 11 have states have gotten wiggle room from No Child Left Behind’s accountability system, and 27 more are waiting to hear. Who’s not on the list? California, which has already said, basically, that it doesn’t think Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s waiver plan fits its needs.

But that doesn’t mean the state wants to stick with NCLB as it is. Instead, Michael Kirst, the state board president, and Tom Torlakson, the state superintendent of public instruction, have readied their own waiver request, which borrows some things from the department’s principles—but skips a key component: teacher evaluation.

Why? The cash-strapped state just doesn’t have the funds to help school districts cover the cost of a new evaluation plan, as state law requires, Kirst said.

“We’re saying we just can’t pay for it,” Kirst said. Other states that have applied for the flexibility “must be rich,” he joked.

And, in Kirst’s view, the waiver request is consistent with what’s actually in the NCLB law. “We do not see anything in the law about state mandates for teacher evaluation,” he said.

It’s worth noting that the powerful California State Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, has not been a fan of the administration’s brand of ESEA waivers.

“The administration’s waiver proposal process swaps one federal, top-down mandate for another and continues to hold states and local schools hostage to the same unproven reforms of the Race to the Top competition,” said CTA spokesman Mike Myslinski in an email. The union has ongoing concerns about standardized test scores playing a significant role in teacher evaluations.

Like other states that have applied for waivers, California is seeking to get out from under adequate yearly progress, the unpopular yardstick at the center of the NCLB law. It also wants to quit from having to set aside money for choice, tutoring, and professional development. (If the request is granted, that would be a big blow for tutoring providers across the country. One in nine public school kids is a Californian, by Kirst’s count.)

The state wants to go back to a made-over version of its pre-NCLB accountability system. It’s made some changes, including in the area of school improvement. The state board is scheduled to vote on the plan May 10. Kirst said it’s consistent with what board members have said they’re looking for.

But will this fly with the feds? It seems unlikely, given that the department has made it clear that the waiver plan is an-all-or-nothing, take-it-or-leave-deal. But Kirst is insistent that California is within its rights. “We believe the proposal fits within the standards of ESEA,” he told me. “We’re looking at the act [itself] and not necessarily things that go beyond it.”

Needless to say, California’s move brings up a ton of tricky political and legal issues. Republicans on Capitol Hill,—including the very influential Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee, and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a former Education Secretary—have been outspoken in their view that Duncan doesn’t have the authority to grant conditional ESEA waivers.

Now you have a school board president, appointed by a Democratic governor, and a Democratic state chief in one of the bluest states in the country challenging the whole conditional waiver process by coming up with something that doesn’t fit the mold.

Plus, if the feds turn California down, that would put even more pressure on the department to come up with some sort of waiver plan for districts, something that has already gotten a less-than-enthusiastic reception from state chiefs. But, if the feds go for it, won’t other states want to choose-their-own-waiver-adventure, too?

UPDATE: Chester E. Finn, Jr., the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, who served in the department of education under President Ronald Reagan, has his own thoughts on the political stakes here. It’s an election year, he said, and so the department could get pressure from the White House to lay-off California. That’s happened in the past, Mr. Finn said, with another White House in another decade.

California may be safe for Democrats, but it’s such a big and high profile state that it might be bad politics for the administration to get into a tussle with the state. Finn’s guess? “I suspect [the feds] will come up with some sort of face-saving compromise,”

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read