NCLB Waivers Roll On, Now 33 and Counting

By Alyson Klein — August 03, 2012 3 min read
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Just three states—Idaho, Illinois, and Nevada—that have applied for waivers are still waiting to hear whether they can get out from under some mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act at a time when about two-thirds of the states have already received such flexibility from the U.S. Department of Education.

In recent weeks, Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Oregon, South Carolina, and the District of Columbia won approval, bringing the total of approved applications to 33. Eleven states got waivers in the first go-round, announced in February.

The Education Department has turned down Iowa’s request, for now, but the state could still be on track to receive a waiver if it is able to work through some legislative hurdles dealing with its teacher-evaluation system.

California is in a bit of a unique situation. It applied for a waiver—but chose not to go along with the department’s conditions and went off on its own course. For instance, the state’s request did not outline the steps it plans to take when it comes to teacher quality, a key element of the conditional-waiver package the Education Department put forth last fall. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declined to comment on the specific status of the Golden State’s request in a recent interview.

States have until Sept. 6 to throw their hats in the ring for the next round of waivers. For those that don’t apply, the Education Department has floated the possibility of allowing districts—presumably those in states that didn’t go along with the department’s conditional-waiver deal—to come up with their own waiver plans. Some state chiefs aren’t keen on the idea, saying that it could step on state authority.

But, if the department doesn’t go through with a district-waiver plan, districts in some big states—including Texas, Pennsylvania, and potentially California—could miss the waiver boat entirely. A dozen states have not applied yet, although several, including Alaska and Alabama have signaled their intention to do so in the fall.

Mr. Duncan said the department is focused on the state process right now. But he left the door wide open when it comes to districts.

“At some point, we’ll come back to the district [waivers],” he said on a July 18 conference call with reporters. “That absolutely remains a possibility. ... Theoretically, if 50 states came in [to the current waiver process], you won’t need to, but that’s probably not likely.”

State-by-State Rundown

To get a waiver, most of the states changed, or provided more detail on, their plans to hold schools accountable for the performance of students in subgroups, such as English-language learners and those in special education. Among the highlights:

• Arizona will use a combined “super-subgroup,” but added a protection requiring districts to target interventions to schools not making progress with students in traditional subgroups, not just those that miss targets for the super-subgroup. Arizona hopes to get all students to proficiency on state tests by the 2019-20 school year, the only state with that goal, one of three choices offered by the department.

• The District of Columbia strengthened protections for students in special education and made changes to its plans for turning around the lowest-performing schools. It also got its charter schools to agree to adopt an evaluation system consistent with the department’s requirements. In the original application, high-performing charters were allowed to opt out of that requirement.

• Kansas revamped its annual measurable objectives, or AMOs, so that they meet the federal Education Department’s requirements. The state also showed that it will target interventions to schools that don’t make progress with subgroup students, even if they are not priority or focus schools.

• Michigan also plans to use a combined subgroup of the bottom 30 percent of students in each school. The state demonstrated to the department that the schools that will be identified for improvement under this system are the same ones that are also slipping with subgroup students.

• Mississippi also added new protections for subgroups into its accountability system and revamped its AMOs.

• Oregon wants to get schools that are now performing in the middle of the pack up to the level of its best schools within the next seven years. It also put a strong focus on the role of districts in improving schools.

• South Carolina will continue to use an “approved provider’’ list, but districts can come up with their own lists of approved providers to give to parents. They don’t have to include all providers on the state list if they don’t think they’re of high quality.

A version of this article appeared in the August 08, 2012 edition of Education Week as Tide of NCLB Waivers Rises; Tally Stands at 33 and Counting


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