Education Week - February 18, 2015 - (Page 17)

NCLB-Waiver Renewal Gears Up; Duncan Holds Weakened Hand New Turnaround-Program Regulations BLOGS By Alyson Klein U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is entering negotiations with states on renewal of their No Child Left Behind Act waivers with a weakened hand, and may find it hard to press them on key Obama administration priorities. Chief among those: testing, accountability, and the requirement for teacherevaluation systems that take student outcomes into account. The back and forth between states and the U.S. Department of Education officially kicked off last month as the first handful of states applied to extend flexibility from many of the mandates of the nclb law for up to four years. It may well be the administration's last chance to put its stamp on K-12 accountability before it closes up shop in early 2017. But the process is unfolding as Congress considers legislation to overhaul the law that would undo much of the work of the waivers when it comes to rigorous standards, school turnarounds, and teacher evaluation. In fact, a draft Senate proposal would prevent the Education Department from trying something similar to the waiver scheme ever again under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, of which the nclb law is the current version. Teacher evaluation-which has been the trickiest area of waiver implementation-is likely to also be the toughest area for the department to enforce in renewal of the waivers now held by 42 states and the District of Columbia. "I think there's going to be so much state pushback on that that the department may have to be open to negotiations on what states put in for teacher evaluation," said Terry Holliday, Kentucky's education commissioner. What's more, once the waivers are a thing of the past, either through an nclb update or because a new administration has ended them, "I think we'd all quickly abandon all the work on tying teacher evaluation to test scores," Mr. Holliday said. For his part, Secretary Duncan said he doesn't think the department's expectations for waiver renewal will be different, even with a reauthorization of the esea brewing on Capitol Hill. "We have to separate these two things out," he said in an interview. Lone Star Standoff The department initially drove a hard bargain on teacher evaluation. It yanked Washington's waiver because that state's teacher-performance system didn't require the use of student results on state assessments. And it dragged its feet for over a year on approving Illinois' waiver because the state's timeline for using such scores didn't conform to the department's vision. But then the administration began allowing states to hit the snooze button on their teacher-evaluation systems when it became increasingly clear that many of its requirements and the timeline were a tougher lift than expected. Most recently, the department allowed states to push off using test scores in performance reviews for an entire school year. It's clear some states are ready to push the envelope even further. After the administration told Texas that its teacher-evaluation system needed some serious retooling, Michael Williams, the commissioner of education in the Lone Star State, said he would take the department's concerns into consideration, but stick to his own principles. Texas doesn't stand to lose much in the standoff, said Monty Exter, a lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, the largest organization of educators in the state, with 100,000 members. "I do think the department is probably inclined to work with states right now in helping them achieve their waivers," he said. "With the reauthorization talks going on right now and Congress looking to limit [federal officials'] ability to even grant waivers, they are in a way weakened position from where they were a year ago." And even if the federal government fails to extend Texas' waiver, it's unlikely to take steps such as pulling Title I funds. "When we talk to [the Texas Education Agency] we say kudos to them," Mr. Exter said. "We are not willing to give away local control in order to receive a waiver, which seems to be of ever-decreasing importance." State Postures Differ Meanwhile, some lawmakers in Washington state are making a second push to regain that state's waiver. Washington lost flexibility last year because its teacher-evaluation system doesn't require districts to use state test scores. But the Washington Education Association is keeping tabs on the action at the U.S. Capitol-and urging its legislature not to touch the evaluation system now that a rewrite of the esea might be within sight. Changing the evaluation system to require the incorporation of test scores on state exams at the department's behest "makes even less sense now ... when Congress is apparently going to change the overarching law in question," said Rich Wood, a spokesman for the wea, a National Education Association affiliate. Not every state is in the mood to flout the department and potentially risk losing a waiver, though. Maine's acting commissioner, Tom Desjardin, is taking a letter from the department about the state's teacher-evaluation system seriously. The department has said, among other things, that it's unclear whether Maine's teacher-evaluation plan takes state scores into account-the same problem it identified in Washington state. Mr. Desjardin is working with state lawmakers to correct the problem, even though he realizes the game may change on him if Congress reauthorizes the esea soon. "All we can do is look at the current law and do the best we can to satisfy that," he said. But Rep. Brian Hubbell, a Democratic state lawmaker, said he doesn't think Maine's waiver is at any real risk since the department's letter doesn't explicitly threaten revocation. In fact, Mr. Hubbell is introducing a bill that would push back the state's teacher-evaluation timeline, allowing the state to continue to pilot its system next school year. California Accountability To be sure, teacher evaluation isn't the only issue the department will have to negotiate with states. California, which doesn't have a statewide, comprehensive waiver from nclb mandates, is seeking to push off for another year requiring its schools to demonstrate adequate yearly progress, or ayp, through scores on new tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Last year, the Golden State secured what amounts to a year's reprieve from ayp when it applied for-and got-a one-year waiver allowing it to use common-corealigned field tests for all its students instead of existing state tests. Field tests are considered experimental, and generally are not used for accountability purposes. And the state never released the student data from the field tests being developed by the federally funded Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Now, California is asking permission from the federal Education Department to use graduation rates, attendance rates, and participation rates on the Smarter Balanced exams-but not student scores-as measures of whether schools are meeting ayp. State officials are essentially arguing that, since there's no real baseline data for last year's field tests, there's no way to really track schools' progress using student outcomes on those exams. Former U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who was critical of the department's original approval of the Golden State's testing flexibility, is highly skeptical of the ask. "When [California] got the [flexibility], the suggestion was that [the state was] going to be a lot smarter this year. And I hope they are," he said of the accountability pause. Indeed, Mr. Holliday, of Kentucky, said there are going to be clear limits to how much flexibility states can get from the department. "I think we've got some leverage, but I think they still got the cards," he said. MULTIMEDIA: View an interactive map outlining each state's waiver status. Offer States Some Additional Flexibility | POLITICS K-12 | Congress last year ordered the U.S. Department of Education to make the School Improvement Grant program much more flexible for states. Now, under final federal sig regulations published Feb. 9, states can cook up their own turnaround interventions for low-performing schools and submit them to the U.S. Secretary of Education for approval. These remedies would not necessarily have to comply with the turnaround principles in the department's waivers. It was not immediately clear, however, how this change will affect states with waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act. (That's 42 states and the District of Columbia.) Those states must use a specific set of turnaround principles with their lowestperforming schools that closely resembles the most popular sig model, transformation. The regulations are the latest step in a long saga over how much leeway states and districts should get when it comes to fixing low-performing schools. When it first took office, the Obama administration poured money into the sig program, including an initial $3 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka the stimulus. But with the new resources came added strings. Almost from the beginning, the sig models were seen as too restrictive, and the program has posted iffy results when it comes to moving the needle on student achievement. The new regulations also incorporate other changes previously floated in the draft regulations that came out last September. They include: allowing states to use early-childhood-education programs as a turnaround strategy for elementary schools; making the teacherevaluation component of the transformation model more consistent with what states have outlined for teacher-performance reviews in their nclb waivers; and requiring districts to regularly review contractors that work on sig. La. Gov. Bobby Jindal Criticizes 'Elites' Who Push Common Core, Insult Parents | STATE EDWATCH | Continuing his campaign against the Common Core State Standards and aligned tests, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal told an audience at a luncheon hosted by a conservative nonprofit group that the standards represent a grave threat to parental power over their children's schooling. At a Feb. 5 event hosted by the American Principles Project, Jindal, a Republican, used the standards to attack Washington bureaucracy, which he claimed forced the standards on states and was now controlling curriculum in the nation's schools in a way that would fail to teach students American exceptionalism. He also decried corporate interests and other groups that he said believe that parents do not know what is in the best interest of their children's education. "I ask them to slow down and listen to these parents. Don't insult them," Jindal said of parents opposed to the standards. He also mentioned in subsequent remarks to the press that while he agrees with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush about many K-12 policies, specifically those that emphasize school choice, the two disagree about the common core. Jindal, who like Mr. Bush is considered a potential 2016 presidential candidate, told the crowd, "I have more confidence in the moms in this room than any collection of bureaucrats." He added that "elites" in Washington and elsewhere who back the standards "think they're better than you." Once a supporter of the standards, Jindal last year sued both the Louisiana board of education and the federal government in order to try to halt the standards and the state's use of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. -ALYSON KLEIN -ANDREW UJIFUSA R.I. Chief Gist to Take Top Post in Tulsa, Capping Rocky Tenure in Ocean State | STATE EDWATCH | Deborah Gist is on her way out as Rhode Island education commissioner after accepting a job offer to become superintendent of the Tulsa, Okla., public schools, The Tulsa World reported. She will take over for Keith Ballard, who is retiring as head of the 42,000-student district. Gist has been Rhode Island's chief state school officer since 2009, and has overseen changes to K-12 policy during her tenure that include shifts in teacher evaluations and blended learning. She's also a member of Chiefs for Change, a group of chief state school officers that advocates school choice and digital education. But her positions faced increasing resistance from teachers' unions and state legislators as time wore on, and the board declined to pick up an option to extend her contract, which was set to expire later this year. -A.U. EDUCATION WEEK | February 18, 2015 | | 17

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - February 18, 2015

Schools Weighing Access To Social Media Passwords
Education Week - February 18, 2015
Measles Outbreak Cues Action On Vaccine Rules
States Shedding Power To Adopt Class Materials
Those Opposing Restraint and Seclusion Gain New Traction With State Legislatures
New Venture to Evaluate Technology
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Global Skills Study Finds U.S. Millennials Trailing
Broad Foundation Puts Urban Schools Prize On Hold Indefinitely
Blogs of the Week
FCC Plan for ‘Net Neutrality’ Addresses Schools’ Needs
Calif. Districts Seeking $1 Billion To Fund Testing Mandate
Obama, Congress Set to Clash On FY16 Budget
GOP in Driver’s Seat as Congress Tackles NCLB Rewrite
NCLB-Waiver Renewal Gears Up; Duncan Holds Weakened Hand
Blogs of the Week
State of the States
FRANK D. LoMONTE: Don’t Silence Young (Female) Journalists
KAREN HAWLEY MILES: Why Annual State Testing Makes Cents
JANE HIRSCHI: ‘Hands in the Dirt’ Learning
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
GILLIAN McGOLDRICK: When Morality and Law Trump School Tradition

Education Week - February 18, 2015