Teacher Question (TQ): What is ESEA Flexibility, what some are calling Waivers?
Answer: ESEA Flexibility is the opportunity for states to seek relief from some of the provisions of the No Child Left Behind law that aren’t working. Until Congress passes a law that fixes NCLB, states are being given the chance to request waivers of certain portions of the law. To qualify for flexibility, states must have plans in place to better prepare our children for college and careers.
TQ: Who can apply for ESEA Flexibility? My state? My school? My union?
A: The federal Elementary and Secondary Education law (now referred to as No Child Left Behind) gives states the responsibility for monitoring compliance with the law. Under the ESEA flexibility plan, only a state can apply. However, states will be creating flexibility plans on behalf of themselves and their districts. States will be encouraged to work closely with their districts to ensure a comprehensive plan that truly increases the quality of instruction and improves academic achievement for all students. Currently, more than 40 states have indicated their intent to request ESEA Flexibility.
TQ: Does ESEA Flexibility require states to make judgments and decisions about my teaching based on a single test?
A: No. Just as a good teacher would never assess a student one time to determine a grade, schools and districts must have multiple ways to assess a teacher’s effectiveness. Under the ESEA flexibility plan, states must use multiple measures of professional practice in teacher evaluation plans, such as portfolios, meaningful observations, peer reviews, parent and student surveys, or other locally developed instruments. The measures must include, as a significant factor, data on student growth. In some cases, this will be means data from state assessments).
TQ: Does testing change under ESEA Flexibility?
A: States will be required to continue measuring students’ achievement annually in at least reading/language arts and math, and to measure students’ achievement in science once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high school. However, rather than mandating that all students reach an arbitrary achievement bar on a low-quality test, the flexibility focuses on ensuring that all students are making progress by requiring higher-quality assessments that measure student growth and truly reflect whether or not a student is on track for success in college and a career.
TQ: What will ESEA Flexibility do to change the curricula that teachers use at my school?
A: No Child Left Behind created unintentional incentives for states to water down and narrow their curricula. ESEA Flexibility does not require states or districts to adopt specific standards or a particular curriculum, but it supports states and districts in moving towards higher standards and a meaningful, rigorous and well-rounded curriculum.
With more rigorous standards in place, students can expect more individualized instruction. Furthermore, ESEA Flexibility will promote a well-rounded curriculum by basing accountability decisions on student growth and progress in addition to other measures of student learning and school progress beyond traditional assessment results. States will be able to assess a school’s success by looking comprehensively at how schools are serving their schools and communities in areas like school climate, access to rigorous coursework, and providing a well-rounded education.
TQ: Does ESEA Flexibility mean that states are given a pass on accountability for closing the achievement gap?
A: No. Both the President and the Secretary of Education believe strongly that education is the civil rights issue of our generation. The Department of Education exists to ensure that every child has access to a quality education. States that do not demonstrate a commitment to closing achievement gaps will not be granted flexibility.