The folks who oversee No Child Left Behind waivers at the U.S. Department of Education may be breaking open the champagne, because they have finally, at long last, given their blessing to the very last state waiting for a waiver extension for this school year: Louisiana.
But the approval comes with a number of asterisks—although none of them seem to be related to the turmoil in the Pelican State over the Common Core State Standards.
Louisiana was once among U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s absolute faves—in fact, he once said it broke his heart that the state wasn’t one of the big, initial winners in the Race to the Top competition.
Now, of course, the political situation is very different, with Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican with presidential aspirations, locked in a legal morass with the Obama administration over what he sees as federal overreach when it comes to the common core standards. Jindal has tried to get the state to ditch the standards, and he’s now in a court battle with state Superintendent John White and the state board over whether to use common-core aligned tests initially funded by the feds.
To get a waiver from NCLB’s requirements, states had to adopt standards that would prepare students for higher education or the workforce. Common Core counts, but states can also get their institutions of higher education to agree that their K-12 standards are tough enough to get students ready for post-secondary work. And the tussle over common core in the state means that Louisiana’s assessments are in flux from a legal perspective, which would seem to have the potential to impact its waiver.
But the stand-off on common core testing doesn’t seem to have hurt the state’s chances of keeping its waiver. The extension comes with conditions, but none of them seem to be related to standards and assessments.
Instead, Louisiana must revamp its plans to reach out to English-language learners, and their parents and teachers. It also has to improve its plans for fixing schools that have big achievement gaps, and for intervening in schools that get federal Title I money but aren’t singled out as among the worst performers in the state. Plus, the state still has some work to do when it comes to its teacher evaluation system. The Pelican State must explain how it plans to address these issues when it applies for a longer-term renewal of its NCLB waiver, in March.
So does that mean that the back-and-forth over standards in Louisiana doesn’t matter, waiver-wise? Maybe, maybe not. The state has submitted some amendments to its waiver extension request, in the areas of school turnarounds and testing, which the department is still reviewing.