Top 5 Questions About NCLB Flexibility

“We’re still hopeful that Congress can continue its work this fall. In the meantime, states and districts have an opportunity to move forward,” said Secretary Duncan in a statement earlier today announcing the Obama Administration’s plan to provide a process for states to receive flexibility under the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind.  While more details on the flexibility plan are forthcoming, here is a list of the top five questions about the announcement we are hearing.

1. Why now?

Reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB)—is four years late. The Obama administration introduced its Blueprint for Reform sixteen months ago, and President Obama called on Congress in March to finish a bill before the start of the new school year. States, districts, schools and most importantly students cannot wait another school year for this broken law to be fixed.

2. Does the administration’s plan replace Congressional reauthorization?

No, the plan to provide flexibility does not replace a comprehensive reauthorization from Congress. The administration’s plan will provide flexibility to districts and schools to improve student achievement by raising standards while Congress continues to work on reauthorization.

3. Does this regulatory flexibility package offer blanket flexibility to states and districts?

While all states will be eligible for this regulatory flexibility, only states that agree to meet a high bar will receive the flexibility they need to improve education on the ground for students. States granted flexibility would be expected to maintain rigorous accountability, including for subgroups of students.

4. Is there legal authority for the Department to allow this flexibility?

Section 9401 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act) allows the Secretary to waive certain statutory or regulatory requirements of the ESEA.

5. When will this flexibility have an impact on the ground?

We will continue to gather ideas from states in the coming month and plan to roll out details of the package in mid-September. We anticipate that this flexibility will begin to have an impact at the end of the 2011-2012 school year and have the most significant impact beginning in the 2012-2013 school year.

 

A Teacher’s Agreement and Frustration at the Save Our Schools Rally

At the SOS rally with other teachers at the ellipse in front of the White House this weekend, I wrestled with conflicting emotions. On the one hand, signs everywhere testified to our universal frustration with the failed policies of NCLB and to damaging cuts to education:  Education Cuts Never Heal . . . Education is Not Just for the Rich & White . . . No Teacher Supports the Status Quo . . . Education is Not Test Prep . . . Build Schools, Not Bombs.

I came to ED one year ago as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow, and have extended my position for one additional year. I share teachers’ concerns expressed at the rally. But, unlike them, I have witnessed Arne Duncan’s team working tirelessly to fix these very problems and overhaul the No Child Left Behind Act. President Obama’s Blueprint for Reform would dramatically reduce the number of schools labeled as failing for not making AYP so that only the bottom five percent would be identified, and those schools would receive considerable support to turn around. It would end the flawed practice of requiring students to reach an arbitrary bar on a poor proficiency test and ask states to focus on each student’s growth instead. It would provide incentives for programs to support teachers’ professional learning and use multiple measures to evaluate them, not only student growth scores. It would encourage states to expand their curricula to include the arts, history, and others neglected under NCLB. And the plan would support the states in their efforts to create better tests that cover critical thinking and really show what students know and can do.

And this is the source of my frustration:  that the teachers at the rally seemed unaware that the administration is with them on so many of the issues they care about. Since he took office, Arne Duncan has been calling for ESEA to be reauthorized so that we can fix the very problems that plague our schools, handcuff teachers, and handicap students. He talks with teachers continually and listens to their concerns. Secretary Duncan is working hard with Congress to pass a bill. If Congress fails to act before the beginning of the school year, he will consider offering regulatory flexibility to help alleviate the burdens of NCLB.

The Arne Duncan who I know developed a passion for education while his mom tutored students in her inner city Chicago Sunday school class who couldn’t read. He worked with her to help these kids, and since then he has built a career focused on educational equity, on ensuring that students do not to become victims of their zip code. He believes the fight for education is a fight for social justice.

At the rally, however, teachers clearly were angry at Arne Duncan for the law that he did not create and that he does not support.  Instead of blaming him, teachers and policymakers need to work together as a team to fix a law that we all agree is broken.

Laurie Calvert

Laurie Calvert is a teacher liaison on loan from Buncombe County Schools in N.C. and working temporarily at the Department of Education.

View A Teacher’s Guide to Fixing No Child Left Behind

NCLB: ‘Getting in the Way of Where We Need to Go’

Secretary Duncan emphasized once again that we need to fix NCLB in real time, not Washington time.

The current law doesn’t reward schools that are making significant progress and prescribes interventions based on absolute test scores, the Secretary said last Friday at a lunchtime question and answer session during the Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network annual conference.

Measuring growth and gains needs to be the focus of any accountability system, he said in response to a question from YEO Network member and Georgia State Representative Alisha Thomas Morgan.

The Secretary explained that No Child Left Behind is an impediment which results in too many schools being labeled as failures, “and is getting in the way of where we need to go.”

In March of 2010, President Obama released the administration’s proposal to fix NCLB, and earlier this year he called on Congress to fix NCLB before the next school year begins. Click here to read A Blueprint for Reform.

Now’s the Time to Act on NCLB


Fixing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) “can’t be done in Washington time. It has to be in real people’s time,” said Secretary Duncan on Tuesday at Dayton’s Bluff Achievement Plus elementary school in St. Paul, Minn.

Duncan, joined at the school by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), was responding to a growing chorus of voices saying that NCLB should be fixed before the start of the upcoming school year. “We need Congress to work with a much greater sense of urgency,” the Secretary noted.

Duncan explained that NCLB is too punitive as well as too loose on goals and too tight on how schools can succeed. The Secretary repeated that the reauthorized law should allow creativity to flourish at the local level. “We won’t dictate curriculum from Washington,” he said. “We need to get out of the way.”

For more information on the Obama Administration’s proposal to fix NCLB, which is formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, read “A Blueprint for Reform” which President Obama released in March of 2010.

The Quiet Revolution Turning Around Michigan City Area Schools

Secretary Duncan Visits a Classroom at Lake Hills Elementary School in Michigan City, Indiana

On a visit to Lake Hills Elementary School in Michigan City, Ind., earlier today, Secretary Duncan saluted the community for renewing a spirit of enthusiasm and pride among teachers, staff, parents, students, and the community and he commended everyone for working together to improve student outcomes.

Michigan City Area Schools (MCAS) is an example of labor and management working together to improve education. MCAS recently reached a contract agreement with teachers that establishes school-based leadership teams to ensure collaborative decision-making and planning. The agreement also included a new principals’ compensation package that incorporates a “pay for performance” component, showing that through collaboration, school leaders are being held accountable for student achievement, and rewarded for student success.

Under the leadership of Superintendent Barbara Eason-Watkins and with the support of Mayor Chuck Oberlie, MCAS is working to re-energize and re-focus, offering more choices and opportunities for students. This fall, the district will launch their first two magnet schools, with Lake Hills Elementary School transitioning to a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) focused school, and Pine Elementary will become a visual and performing arts themed school.

MCAS has been recognized at the state and national levels for its innovative classroom technology, and by the way it uses new ways to engage students in learning. Believing that economic success is closely tied to school success, MCAS is working to realign career and technical education by partnering with local businesses, Ivy Tech Community College and Purdue University North Central to create a better trained workforce that will meet the needs of area businesses.

The reforms being implemented at MCAS are the same reforms that ED is supporting through programs such as Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, School Improvement Grants, and the Teacher Incentive Fund. Secretary Duncan calls this the “quiet revolution,” and it is largely being driven by motivated parents, great educators and administrators challenging defeatism, elected officials and stakeholders who value education, and foundations and entrepreneurs who are bringing fresh new thinking to help schools and students grow and improve.

–Sherry Schweitzer

The President in Miami: Winning the Future Through Investments in Education

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

This afternoon, President Obama will visit Miami Central Senior High School in Miami, Florida, along with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The President will lay out his vision for improving American education through investments that are focused on responsibility, reform, and results.

Secretary Duncan previewed today’s visit with an op-ed for the Miami Herald:

Turning around a struggling school is some of the toughest work in education. Experience shows that effective turnarounds require strong leadership and the flexibility to recruit staff with special skills and commitment. Not every teacher or principal wants or should be in this demanding environment. But extraordinary principals and teachers who choose to work in turnaround schools deserve our full support and commitment.
The administration is supporting an array of bold options to help the children trapped in America’s lowest-performing schools. “More of the same” is not one of them.