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Michele McNeil at Edweek has the goods on U.S. Ed. Sec. Arne Duncan’s surprising decision to give eight California school districts a one-year waiver on No Child Left Behind. The eight districts are Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Sanger and Santa Ana.
California was ineligible for a waiver (unlike 32 other states, including New Jersey) because it has not implemented required elements like linking teacher evaluations to student outcomes. These eight districts got together and formed a consortium called CORE (California Office to Reform Education). CORE applied for a waiver independent of the California State Department of Education and yesterday the waiver was granted by Duncan.
McNeil quotes Deputy Ed. Comm. Andrew Smarick (who now works with Bellwether): “I’m shocked. For the secretary to unilaterally dispense with 30-plus years of state-led accountability is incredible.”
Another partner at Bellwether, Andy Rotherham has a more measured response: “I’m not in the camp of ‘any district waiver is a lousy idea.’ If a district or group of districts came forward with something really innovative and rigorous then why not? District waivers are part of the law (as with other waivers reasonable people, and lawyers, can disagree about how far that authority goes) and have been used before under NCLB with a lot less grumbling on process and authority than you’re hearing now…politics anyone? It’s sure hard to argue that the current approach is working well – especially in light of the last set of waivers so we shouldn’t reflexively fear a new approach.”
From the article:
Granting such a waiver is a risky move for a federal department that is already trying to manage an enormous portfolio of grants and programs—from billions of dollars in Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation grants to a hodgepodge of new accountability systems that are emerging in the 39 states, plus the District of Columbia, that have waivers.
What’s more, this waiver could open the door for other districts that want their own tailor-made waiver. At a minimum, the department might have to deal with the administrative burden of fielding inquiries and even applications from other districts. Right now, however, Duncan said he doesn’t foresee any other districts applying.