To the Editor:
The No Child Left Behind Act highlighted how extreme the achievement gap is in this country. One major flaw in NCLB logic, however, is that the legislation does not take student growth into account. It is impossible to close the achievement gap without student growth.
Schools must be given incentives to produce accelerated student gains. The NCLB waivers have done just that by calling states to identify “priority” and “focus” schools and to develop improvement plans for each identified school that consist of multiple state-approved interventions. Focus schools are specifically identified for an achievement gap between two or more subgroups in the school, and NCLB waivers have allowed districts the flexibility to implement allowable interventions to address achievement gaps.
Now that we have been able to observe the implementation of the waivers and how schools are responding to the new flexibility, I have noticed the following:
• Some schools have more flexibility than others, and, as expected, the lowest-performing schools have less flexibility than top performers.
• Budgets are tight, and despite significantly greater flexibility in how federal education dollars are spent, tightening school budgets inhibit the implementation of differentiated intervention programs.
• Local education agencies and schools are left with little choice but to develop targeted supports for struggling students. To leverage limited resources, schools must target subgroups of students that need additional help. With the new focus on growth, principals should re-evaluate which students get the bulk of intervention resources.
NCLB incentivized states to lower standards in order for more students to be able to “pass” the test. As such, we have seen tremendous disparities between state scores and the National Assessment of Educational Progress results.
Having said all that, quality programming is on the rise—greater flexibility coupled with diminished budgets has caused decisionmakers to focus on quality.
SmartStart Education, LLC
New Haven, Conn.
A version of this article appeared in the February 06, 2013 edition of Education Week as NCLB Waivers Promote Gains