The Obama administration has unveiled its plans to offer states and local school districts some regulatory relief from the more onerous mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act—a policy move that NSBA calls encouraging.
First proposed this summer, the initiative will allow states to request waivers to specific NCLB mandates in exchange for “serious” reform efforts designed to close achievement gaps and boost accountability.
For local school boards, such waivers could offer greater flexibility in the use of federal funds—or the elimination of the highly unpopular requirement that local districts set aside 20 percent of Title I funds for school choice and supplemental tutorial services.
States also can seek relief from NCLB’s accountability system, with its unrealistic expectation that all students will be 100-percent proficient by 2014, and from such punitive sanctions as forcing a low-per-forming school to fire its principals and teachers or close down.
The waivers will come at a price. The White House says states and local school districts will need to embrace new accountability standards, create tougher and more meaningful teacher evaluation systems, and make greater efforts to ensure all graduating students are college and career-ready.
“The purpose is not to give states and districts a reprieve from accountability, but rather to unleash energy to improve our schools at the local level,” Obama said in a statement released Friday.
NSBA has long campaigned for federal policymakers to fix the flaws of NCLB, and NSBA officials welcomed the Obama administration’s latest initiative.
“The proposed NCLB regulatory relief plan is a positive step as it could provide much needed assistance to local school district efforts to improve student achievement,” says Anne L. Bryant, NSBA’s executive director.
Still unclear, however, is whether individual local school boards will see the regulatory relief they want.
“The effectiveness of the plan will depend upon the details of the application requirements, the specific locally needed relief states ask for, and whether the merit of a state’s application is judged adequate by the U.S. Department of Education to receive the relief that it asks for,” Bryant notes.
The administration’s waiver program might yet need to take another step forward, suggests Michael A. Resnick, NSBA’s associate executive director for federal advocacy and public policy.
“NSBA believes that federal requirements that are educationally, financially, or operationally counter-productive at the school house level should be eliminated as a matter of policy not as a condition for states qualifying to meet new conditions,” Resnick says. “We encourage the U.S. Department of Education to provide local relief along those lines should its state-based approach fall short of the local relief needed.”
Administration officials said they’ve acted because of delays in Congress over NCLB’s reauthorization. Under the law, schools are facing increasingly serious sanctions as they approach the 2014 deadline for bringing 100 percent of the nation’s students to proficiency levels in reading and math.
One federal estimate is that 82 percent of the nation’s schools will miss that target.
“The states are desperately asking for us to respond,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last month.
Most states have indicated they will apply for waivers. The White House says the first waivers could be granted by early 2012.