Four Virginia districts can provide students in low-performing schools with free tutoring before offering them the choice of switching to a higher-performing public school, under the first waiver granted by the federal government under the No Child Left Behind Act.
The “flexibility agreement” was outlined in an Aug. 25 letter from U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings to Thomas J. Jackson Jr., the president of the Virginia state board of education.
While the secretary has granted a number of states increased regulatory flexibility under the law, it is the first time that either Ms. Spellings or her predecessor, Rod Paige, has invoked Section 9401 of the law, which permits the secretary to grant waivers of elements of the statute itself.
The flexibility—long sought by a number of states—in essence reverses the order of the consequences spelled out in the federal law, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Congress passed the law in late 2001.
The law requires all schools to meet annual targets for student performance to be deemed to have made adequate yearly progress.
Schools receiving federal Title I money for disadvantaged students that miss those targets for two years in a row are identified as needing improvement and must offer eligible students the chance to transfer to a higher-performing public school. Title I schools that remain in school improvement status a second year also must offer eligible students free tutoring, known under the law as “supplemental educational services.”
Under the pilot program approved for Virginia, four school districts—in Alexandria, Newport News, Henry County, and Stafford County—will be allowed to offer eligible students only tutoring during the first year that a Title I school is identified for improvement.
More Waivers Expected
Title I schools that are identified for a second year would have to offer both transfers and supplemental services. As a condition of the waiver, Virginia must provide the federal government with information on the academic achievement of students receiving tutoring; ensure that parents have access to a variety of providers; and increase the combined number of students taking advantage of the transfer and tutoring options.
While Virginia is the only state to receive such a waiver so far, the U.S. Department of Education plans to begin several pilot programs in a select number of districts across the country. The pilots will test the impact on student achievement of switching the order of transfers and tutoring, and examine how students use those options, according to department officials.
Meanwhile, Secretary Spellings has granted most states additional regulatory flexibility in meeting the law’s accountability provisions.
By late last week, the federal government had sent final decision letters to 37 states approving at least some of the requested changes to their accountability plans. Three states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico did not request any changes from last year in how they calculate adequate progress under the law.
Ten more states had yet to receive final decision letters from department officials, although they have received oral approval for some of their requests.