Education Week - February 18, 2015 - (Page 17)
NCLB-Waiver Renewal Gears Up;
Duncan Holds Weakened Hand New Turnaround-Program Regulations
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
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.
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
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.
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
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,"
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
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
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
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.
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.
EDUCATION WEEK | February 18, 2015 | www.edweek.org | 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
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