Federal Information Alert

President Announces NCLB Waiver Plan 

Friday, September 23, 2011

At a White House event this morning, President Obama said that while the goals of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) were admirable, the law’s implementation faults were leading him to act to give states “more flexibility to meet high standards.” The Administration had previously expressed its frustration with the failure of Congress to complete reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in its current incarnation as NCLB, noting that it has governed federal elementary and secondary policy for a decade despite its flaws. In August, the Administration announced its intent to move forward with offering waivers, and today marked the release of details about the waiver process. To get waiver, states will have to adopt career and college ready standards, focus on the 15% of their most troubled schools (states will be required to implement the interventions of the School Improvement Grants program for the bottom 5%), and create guidelines for evaluating teachers based in part on student performance.   It is interesting that both the President’s remarks this morning and the materials on the waiver plan noted state education reform activity in recent months, including widespread adoption of college-and career-ready standards, development of new assessments, and reforms in turning around low-performing schools and teacher and principal evaluation and support. The press release for the event called this a “quiet revolution.” (State legislators and staff may have their own characterization of the decibel level.)   

Summary of waiver package

According to information released today, a state may request flexibility through waivers of several specific proposals of NCLB, including:

  • Flexibility regarding the 2013-2014 timeline for all students achieving 100% proficiency in reading/language arts and mathematics. 
  • Flexibility regarding district and school improvement and accountability requirements. 
  • Flexibility regarding the use of federal education funds.

In exchange, states will have to have a plan for addressing three critical areas: improving educational outcomes for all children, closing achievement gaps and increasing gaps and increasing equity, and improving the quality of instruction.   Specifically, states will have to show that they are:

  • Transitioning to college-and career-ready standards and assessments. To get a waiver states must have already adopted college-and career-ready standards in reading/language arts and mathematics designed to raise achievement for all students. States will not be required to adopt Common Core Standards. There are two options that would allow them to demonstrate that they have adopted college-and career-ready standards: working with higher education institutions in their states to verify that academic standards ensure graduates are ready for college work, and working with other states to set research-based standards.
  • Developing systems of differentiated recognition, accountability and support. States seeking waivers will establish a system that gives credit for progress towards college-and-career readiness. States will recognize and reward the highest achieving schools that serve low-income students and show the greatest student progress as “Reward Schools.” For a state’s lowest-performing schools—those in the bottom five percent, “Priority Schools”—the district must implement rigorous interventions (i.e. the four turnaround strategies under the School Improvement Grant program). For an additional 10 percent of a state’s schools—“Focus Schools,” identified as such by low graduation rates, large achievement gaps, or low student subgroup performance—the district will implement strategies designed to focus on students with the greatest needs.
  • Evaluating and Supporting Teacher and Principal Effectiveness. To get a waiver, astate will have to set basic guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation and support systems.   Such systems are to be developed with teacher and principal input to assess their performance using multiple valid measures, including student progress over time and multiple measures of professional practice, and will use these systems to provide clear feedback to teachers on how to improve instruction. 

SEAs will have multiple opportunities to submit requests for flexibility. In order to provide flexibility to SEAs by the end of the 2011−2012 school year, there are two windows in which an SEA may submit its request:

  • Submit requests by November 14, 2011 for December peer review
  • Submit requests by mid-February, 2012 for a Spring 2012 review

Real relief from some provisions may be seen in the 2012-2013 school year, when provisions such as the need to set aside funds for free tutoring and school choice will be waived.  

You can access more information at: www.ed.gov/esea/flexiblity.

Request for Feedback

This proposal will undoubtedly be the subject of much discussion in every state. As this occurs, I encourage you to share any questions, concerns, or general response to the proposal with the NCSL education federal affairs staff. You can contact us at lee.posey@ncsl.org or michael.reed@ncsl.org, or by calling NCSL’s D.C. office at (202) 624-5400. Your feedback would be greatly appreciated.   Also, for the latest ESEA reauthorization information, please keep checking our ESEA reauthorization page at: http://www.ncsl.org/Default.aspx?TabID=756&tabs=951,64,224#224

Finally, we expect the Department of Education to send us information shortly about a planned conference call that will be an opportunity to learn more learn more about the package and pose questions to the Secretary and senior officials. As soon as the Department sends us the call logistics, we will send that information out to you.