Thoughts on the NCLB Waivers

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Last Friday morning, representatives of the U.S. Department of Education met with members of ASCD’s Legislative Committee and offered a preview of the administration’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) waiver plan, which President Obama announced later in the day.

We are grateful for their time and willingness to listen to our member’s feedback. Myself and the educators who accompanied me to this meeting left somewhat heartened by the administration’s plan. Of special interest to ASCD were the waiver plan’s top two points, which offer flexibility on the 2013–2014 Timeline for Determining Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and flexibility in the implementation of school improvement requirements.

Additional points of flexibility in the administration’s plan focus on providing

  • Flexibility in implementation of LEA improvement requirements.
  • Flexibility for schoolwide programs.
  • Flexibility to support school improvement.
  • Flexibility for reward schools.

We at ASCD believe the AYP system is irretrievably broken. We feel strongly that the education accountability mandate needs to be transformed from one that is punitive, federally prescriptive, and overly bureaucratic to a model that rewards achievement, is state-driven and peer reviewed, and promotes supportive learning communities and a culture of continual improvement. The administration’s new plan seems to offer some progress on this issue.

Likewise, ASCD has long asked federal policymakers to authorize a growth model accountability system for each child and reconceptualize the goals and interventions for chronically underperforming schools from punitive and unproven sanctions to an improvement system of access to comprehensive support. In addition, we’d like to see a system created that uses rewards and incentives—including flexibility in the use of Title I funds—for states and schools that are consistently high performing, close achievement gaps, or do well in cohort comparisons.

Certainly, we have concerns about the secretary using his waiver authority to extract reform commitments from states in exchange for this flexibility, something that wasn’t envisioned by lawmakers when NCLB was enacted and establishes a precedent that is not the preferred way to institute education policies. However, the thrust of the waivers are responsive to the interests and demands of state and local education leaders. ASCD believes that although the administration’s waiver plan is a positive development, we remain firm in our position that U.S. children are best served by congressional action to completely overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

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