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Another Chance for California NCLB Waiver Complicated by Local Efforts

by Michael Higham, published

EdSource Interview Reveals Another Chance for California NCLB Waiver

The relationship between California and the federal government in terms of education policy has been tense. The U.S. Department of Education issues waivers from No Child Left Behind sanctions to some states and while California has made several attempts, it has never been successful.

EdSource interviewed U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Wednesday. Duncan stated he is still open to a California NCLB waiver. However, a collective effort from several individual school districts in California for a waiver has complicated matters.

What's known as CORE, or California Office to Reform Education, underwent an nontraditional application after the state was recently denied. CORE's application is currently under federal review, but if CORE's waiver is approved, a possible state waiver would trump that.

Sec. Duncan addresses the possible conflict between the two NCLB waiver efforts:

I think anything’s possible, we haven’t worked through sort of all the permutations and ramifications there, but right now, again, folks are going back and forth with the CORE districts, we’ll see where that nets out and we remain ready to talk and open for business if the state wants to come in itself.

The NCLB law applies sanctions to states if certain educational goals are not met by 2014. Sanctions include limitations on Title I funding for low-income students and federal intervention in low-performing schools.

CORE wishes to avoid those sanctions since the state has never succeeded in obtaining an NCLB waiver. Duncan says it could be too late for the state to obtain a waiver before the beginning of the 2014 school year.

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson has openly criticized the waiver system in the past. He has insisted that California's current student performance accountability system is sufficient for purposes of an NCLB waiver. The state currently uses the Academic Performance Index (API) to rate student achievement in each school and district.

Reforming teacher evaluations has been at the heart of disagreements with past California NCLB waiver applications. Federal feedback insisted on a higher degree of standardized test scores to tie into teacher evaluations. CORE wants to tie testing performance into evaluations, putting the state education department and CORE at odds.

The U.S. Department of Education has granted waivers on the basis that states can provide alternative accountability and performance goals. The department insists on certain types of reforms to take place before approving waivers. Currently, 34 states have been granted waivers and 11 are still under review.

Although No Child Left Behind expired in 2007, the lack of an update or replacement law means it stays in place. A revision to NCLB or new law is not expected until 2015 as efforts from federal officials have been minimal.

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