New Flexibility for States Implementing Fast-Moving Reforms: Laying Out Our Thinking

Over the last four years, states and school districts across America have embraced an enormous set of urgent challenges with real courage: raising standards to prepare young people to compete in the global economy, developing new assessments, rebuilding accountability systems to meet the needs of each state and better serve at-risk students, and adopting new systems of support and evaluation for teachers and principals. Meeting this historic set of challenges all at once asks more of everybody, and it’s a tribute to the quality of educators, leaders, and elected officials across this country that so many have stepped up.
Secretary Duncan talking with student

One crucial change has been the state-led effort to voluntarily raise standards. That effort dates back to 2006, when a bipartisan core of leaders – governors, state superintendents, business people — came together because they recognized that America’s students needed to be prepared to compete in a global economy that demanded more than basic skills. They began a movement that has ended up with nearly every state adopting standards that reflect the knowledge and skills young people actually need to succeed in college and careers. Especially in communities where students historically have not been held to high standards, this state-led push is nothing less than a civil rights issue.

To put student learning squarely at the center of school decisions, states agreed to evaluate principals and teachers based in part on student growth, as measured by test scores, along with measures like principal observation, peer review, feedback from parents and students, and classroom work. These commitments became part of waiver agreements that have helped states dispense with the most broken parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The US Department of Education also provided $350 million to two consortia of states to develop online assessments, benchmarked to the new standards, which will improve significantly on today’s “bubble tests.” All but a few states have agreed to implement these new evaluation systems by the 2015-16 school year.

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Department Releases New Publications Highlighting ESEA Flexibility

With 34 states and the District of Columbia approved for ESEA flexibility, the U.S. Department of Education released a series of new publications this week, describing the flexibility program and the ways in which some participating states are advancing important education reforms.

ESEA Flex LogoESEA flexibility enables states and districts to maintain a high bar for student achievement while better targeting resources to schools and students most in need of additional support. The publication series includes a brochure and fact sheets on topics that relate to five priority areas under ESEA flexibility (pdf files):

  1. Continuing to expose and close achievement gaps;
  2. Advancing accountability for graduation rates;
  3. Turning around the lowest-performing schools;
  4. Protecting school and student accountability; and
  5. Supporting teachers, leaders, and local innovation.

The Department announced voluntary ESEA flexibility in September 2011 in the absence of a reauthorization – or congressional update – to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The most recent update to the federal education law – the No Child Left Behind Act – was due for reauthorization in 2007, but has governed a changing national education landscape for more than a decade. ESEA flexibility allows states and districts to replace the “one-size-fits-all,” prescriptive provisions of NCLB with state-led reforms tailored to address their most pressing education challenges.

For more information about ESEA flexibility and to access the new brochure and fact sheets, please visit this Web site.

Tiffany Taber is senior communications and events manager at the U.S. Department of Education

The State of Education

Arne_Press_Club

Secretary Duncan spoke on the state of education at the National Press Club. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

“States and districts, schools and communities are driving more change than ever before,” Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters during a speech at the National Press Club yesterday. “Educators at every level are being more and more creative — pairing good schools with struggling schools, creating smaller, more manageable districts, and building partnerships between both high schools and colleges – and between colleges and industries,” he said.

During his speech and follow-up question and answer, Duncan reflected on the Department’s recent Education Drives America cross-country back-to-school bus tour, as well as explained how far we’ve come in last three years, and how far the country still needs to go.

On Flexibility Under No Child Left Behind

Above all there is enormous enthusiasm at the state level to build more effective accountability systems through the waiver process we began last fall – and now affecting more than 60 percent of the schoolchildren in the country in 33 states – with about 10 more in the pipeline.

Waivers are not a pass on accountability – but a smarter, more focused and fair way to hold ourselves accountable. In exchange for adopting high standards and meaningful systems of teacher support and evaluation:

  • States set ambitious but achievable targets for every subgroup.
  • More children at risk – who were invisible under NCLB – are now included in state-designed accountability systems — including low-income students, English-language learners and students with disabilities.
  • Finally, local districts decide the most effective way to intervene in underperforming schools, instead of applying rigid, top-down mandates from Washington.

On Race to the Top

Our job — for the last three and a half years – has been to support that work – to support bold and courageous reform at the state and local level. That’s what Race to the Top was all about.

We offered the biggest competitive grants in our department’s history – and 45 states raised standards and 33 states changed laws – in order to compete and accelerate student achievement. In a fascinating lesson on the power of incentives, we have seen as much reform in states that didn’t receive a nickel as in states that received tens of millions of dollars.

The fact that 45 states have now adopted internationally benchmarked, college and career-ready standards is an absolute game-changer. Virtually the entire country has voluntarily raised expectations for our children.

On Strengthening Teaching

I also know that some educators feel overwhelmed by the speed and pace of change. Teachers I speak with always support accountability and a fair system of evaluation. They want the feedback so they can get better and hone their craft.

But some of them say it’s happening too quickly and not always in a way that is respectful and fair. They want an evaluation system that recognizes out-of-school factors and distinguishes among students with special needs, gifts and backgrounds.

They certainly don’t want to be evaluated based on one test score – and I absolutely agree with them. Evaluation must be based on multiple measures.

On Investing in Education

And the choice facing the country is pretty stark – we are at a fork in the road. Some people see education as an expense government can cut in tough economic times. President Obama sees education as an investment in our future – the best investment we can make, especially in tough economic times.

Duncan ended by calling for the country to unite behind the cause of public education and realize that the solutions won’t come from one party or ideology, but that all of us need to challenge and hold ourselves accountable.

Read the entire speech here, and watch the video from C-SPAN here.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital engagement at the U.S. Department of Education

Approved: Eight More States Get NCLB Waivers

Secretary Duncan announces new waivers in Connecticut.

Secretary Duncan announces new waivers in Connecticut.

Joined by state and local leaders, educators and students, Secretary Duncan announced earlier today at Connecticut’s historic capitol, that the Obama Administration approved eight additional states for flexibility from key provisions of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

The eight states (Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island), brings the total number of states to receive waivers to 19, with an additional 18 applications still under review.

States who receive flexibility under NCLB agree to develop state-level plans to prepare all students for college and career, focus aid on the neediest students, and support effective teaching and leadership.

Resources:

States and Education Community Weigh In on First Round of NCLB Flexibility

President Obama and Secretary Duncan at the White House announcement

President Barack Obama, with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, delivers remarks on education reform and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind, in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 9, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama announced yesterday that ten states have agreed to implement bold education reforms and will receive flexibility from No Child Left Behind.

These ten states will now have the flexibility needed to raise student achievement standards, improve school accountability, and increase teacher effectiveness. The ten states approved for flexibility are Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

Here’s what Governors, state education chiefs and education stakeholders are saying about the announcement:

Colorado Education Commissioner Robert Hammond: “The waiver really supports our state system of continuous improvement and allows schools and districts to focus their energies on one accountability system designed to elevate student achievement.”

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal: “This waiver will give Georgia the flexibility we need to pursue our goals of student achievement. We appreciate the cooperation of federal officials as we seek to prepare young Georgians for higher education and the jobs of tomorrow.”

Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett: “I applaud the U.S. Department of Education for providing states the flexibility they need to drive academic achievement for all students. Indiana’s commitment to comprehensive reform has enabled us to be among the first states receiving a waiver.”

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear: “This federal flexibility opens a new chapter in the Commonwealth’s work to ensure a well-educated citizenry.”

Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius: “Now, with the support of the U.S. Department of Education and Secretary Duncan, we will be able to better address those inequities and create an educational system that better serves our every Minnesota student.”

Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman: “It’s just not helpful or realistic to label schools and districts as failing, especially when they are making significant academic gains. This waiver is all about approving achievement for all students while closing persistent achievement gaps.”

National Education Association: “We’re encouraged by President Obama’s and Secretary Duncan’s efforts to provide NCLB waivers for relief,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.  “These states have committed to working with teachers, parents, and other community stakeholders to implement changes designed to better support students. Our members look forward to being part of a true partnership with school and community leaders to think creatively about how to help all students thrive with this new flexibility.”

National Association of State Boards of Education: “States and state boards of education are at the fore of innovation in education as they continue to develop and improve policies to help every student become college- or career-ready. It is heartening to see the Administration recognizes this hard work by starting to relieve states of the burden imposed on them by a law that set out worthy but perhaps unrealistic goals.”

The Education Trust: “In this new approach, the federal government takes responsibility for ensuring that states set meaningful goals for all groups of students — particularly low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities and English language learners, all of whom are too often shortchanged by state and local education policy.”

We Can’t Wait: 10 States Approved for NCLB Flexibility

“We can’t wait,” President Obama said earlier today at a White House event to announce that 10 states have been approved for flexibility in exchange for reform from No Child Left Behind. The ten states approved for flexibility are Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

“The goals of No Child Left Behind were the right ones,” the President said, pointing to standards, accountability and closing the achievement gap. “We’ve got to stay focused on those goals,” he said. “But we need to do it in a way that doesn’t force teachers to teach to the test, or encourage schools to lower their standards to avoid being labeled as failures.”

In a statement earlier today, Secretary Duncan said that “rather than dictating educational decisions from Washington, we want state and local educators to decide how to best meet the individual needs of students.”

To get flexibility from NCLB, states must adopt and have a plan to implement college and career-ready standards. They must also create comprehensive systems of teacher and principal development, evaluation and support that include factors beyond test scores, such as principal observation, peer review, student work, or parent and student feedback.

States receiving waivers no longer have to meet 2014 targets set by NCLB but they must set new performance targets for improving student achievement and closing achievement gaps.

They also must have accountability systems that recognize and reward high-performing schools and those that are making significant gains, while targeting rigorous and comprehensive interventions for the lowest-performing schools.

Under the state-developed plans, all schools will develop and implement plans for improving educational outcomes for underperforming subgroups of students. State plans will require continued transparency around achievement gaps, but will provide schools and districts greater flexibility in how they spend Title I federal dollars.

Click here to read the press release.

Click here to read the President’s remarks.

Additional information on ESEA Flexibility, including request details, can be found at www.ed.gov/esea/flexibility.

New “School Days” Video Highlights First Group of States Seeking Waivers from NCLB

The latest edition of ED’s “School Days” video journal looks back at the month of November, and the lead story features the first states to seek waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act in exchange for broad reforms.  Other news includes Secretary Arne Duncan’s visits to Ohio, Kentucky, and Rhode Island; new grants for innovations in education; a just-published report showing that schools with low-income students aren’t getting their fair share of state and local funds; and much more.

Watch the November 2011 School Days:


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Reforming NCLB Requires Flexibility and Accountability

Fixing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is four years overdue. In March of 2010, the Administration unveiled its Blueprint for Reform. Since then we’ve worked on a bipartisan basis to craft a comprehensive reform bill that would help give our children the world-class education they need and deserve.  Today marks an important step forward.

Senator Tom Harkin and Senator Mike Enzi — Chairman and Ranking Member respectively of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — introduced a bipartisan bill to officially overhaul NCLB.  I deeply appreciate the efforts of Senators Harkin and Enzi to build in more flexibility for states and districts, and focus on the goal of building a world-class education system that prepares all students for college and careers.   Increased flexibility at the state and local level is consistent with the administration’s policy on waivers and our Blueprint for Reform.

However, it is equally important that we maintain a strong commitment to accountability for the success of all students, and I am concerned that the Senate bill does not go far enough.  Parents, teachers, and state leaders across the country understand that in order to prepare all of our young people to compete in the global economy, we must hold ourselves and each other accountable at every level of the education system– from the classroom to the school district, from the states to the federal government.  In addition, I am concerned the Senate bill lacks a comprehensive evaluation and support system to guide teachers and principals in continuing to improve their practice.

America cannot retreat from reform.  We must ensure that every classroom in every school is a place of high expectations and high performance.  The fact that we have a bipartisan bill in the Senate is an important and positive development, but it’s only a beginning.  I look forward to working with Congress in the weeks and months ahead to advance this bipartisan effort, address these and other concerns and build a world-class education system that strengthens America’s economy and secures America’s future.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

Granting Administrative Flexibility for Better Measures of Success

On February 28, 2011, the President issued a memorandum to Federal agencies entitled “Administrative Flexibility, Lower Costs, and Better Results for State, Local, and Tribal Governments.” In that Memorandum, the President asked Federal agencies, in consultation with State, local, and tribal governments, to take actions that would provide increased flexibility—where it will yield the same or improved outcomes at lower cost—in Federal programs administered by State, local, and tribal governments.

As part of its efforts to meet the objectives of the Memorandum and to encourage the greater use of existing flexibilities, the Department is writing today to solicit ideas for three different types of pilot projects. Two of these types of projects would allow for the relaxation or waiver of requirements related to either (1) time-and-effort reporting under Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-87 or (2) the documentation or demonstration of compliance with other administrative record-keeping and reporting requirements similar to time and effort. In exchange for granting flexibility in either of these areas, the Department would require entities selected for a pilot project to use alternative methods of ensuring that Federal education dollars are appropriately used to meet overarching program goals—for example, by measuring outputs or improvements in student achievement associated with Federal investments. The Department is looking for examples of burdensome administrative record-keeping and reporting requirements as well as ideas on what alternative methods for ensuring proper oversight of Federal funds might be.

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ED’s Carmel Martin to Answer ESEA Flexibility Questions via Twitter Chat

Carmel Martin, the U.S. Department of Education’s assistant secretary for planning, evaluation and policy development will host a Twitter chat on Wednesday, October 5, from 4-5 PM EDT to answer questions about the Obama Administration’s recent announcement that states can get relief from provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The event will also be broadcast live on ED’s ustream channel.

The new flexibility supports local and state education reform across the country in exchange for serious state-led efforts to close achievement gaps, promote rigorous accountability, and ensure that all students are on track to graduate college- and career-ready. Click here for more information on ESEA Flexibility.

Beginning today, Twitter users can submit questions to Carmel using the hashtag #EDFlex.

What NCLB Flexibility Means for You

Earlier today President Obama provided details on how states can get relief from provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act- or No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

The new flexibility supports local and state education reform across the country in exchange for serious state-led efforts to close achievement gaps, promote rigorous accountability, and ensure that all students are on track to graduate college- and career-ready.

Here’s how flexibility may affect you:

For Teachers:

ESEA flexibility will move accountability systems toward decisions that are based on student growth and progress. They will consider more than a single test score measured against an arbitrary proficiency level.  States will be able to look comprehensively at how schools are serving their students and communities, in areas like school climate, access to rigorous coursework, and providing a well-rounded education.

Flexibility also will support States and districts in fixing the broken teacher evaluation systems, by allowing for the use of multiple measures to evaluate teachers, including peer reviews, principal observation, portfolios, and student work.

For Parents:

ESEA Flexibility will let States create honest accountability and support systems that require real change in the worst performing schools, allow for locally tailored solutions based on individual school needs, and recognize schools for success. When schools fall short, parents will know that school leaders will adopt targeted and focused strategies for the students most at risk.

The accountability system also will end the over-emphasis on testing. Parents will like this change for the same reasons that teachers will – it will promote a well-rounded curriculum while giving a fair and responsible assessment of their school’s success in preparing students for college and careers.

For Students:

Under ESEA flexibility, States will begin to move beyond the bubble tests and dumbed-down standards that are based on arbitrary standards of proficiency. By measuring student growth and critical thinking, new assessments will inspire better teaching and greater student engagement across a well-rounded curriculum. By setting standards based on college- and career-readiness, States will challenge students to make progress toward a goal that will prepare them for success in the 21st century knowledge economy.

Click here to download our FAQ about ESEA flexibility (MS Word), and for more detailed information visit ed.gov/esea/flexibility.