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.

After 10 Years, It’s Time for a New NCLB

The following op-ed appeared in the January 8, 2012 edition of the Washington Post.

Ten years ago today, President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act. The law has improved American education in some ways, but it also still has flaws that need to be fixed.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for the first time exposed achievement gaps and created a conversation about how to close them. The law has held schools accountable for the performance of all students no matter their race, income level, English-proficiency or disability. Schools can no longer point to average scores while hiding an achievement gap that is morally unacceptable and economically unsustainable.

But NCLB has significant flaws. It created an artificial goal of proficiency that encouraged states to set low standards to make it easier for students to meet the goal. The act’s emphasis on test scores as the primary measure of school performance has narrowed the curriculum, and the one-size-fits-all accountability system has mislabeled schools as failures even if their students are demonstrating real academic growth. The law is overly prescriptive and doesn’t allow districts to create improvement plans based on their unique needs. It also has not supported states as they create teacher evaluation systems that use multiple measures to identify highly effective teachers and support the instructional improvement of all teachers.

The question today is how to build on NCLB’s success and fix its problems. Fortunately, states are leading the way. In Washington, we need to do everything we can to support their work.

Over the past two years, 45 states and the District of Columbia have shown tremendous courage by raising their academic standards to measure whether students are truly prepared for success in college and careers. To measure students’ progress toward those standards, 44 states and the District are working together to create assessments based on the common set of standards developed by educators, governors and state education chiefs. What’s more, states and school districts have adopted bold and comprehensive reforms to support academic achievement for all students. These reforms are improving teacher and principal evaluation and support, as well as turning around low-performing schools and expanding access to high-quality schools.

Unfortunately, the law is unintentionally creating barriers for these reforms. States that have chosen to raise standards will soon need to explain why student scores are dropping. Instead, they should be able to highlight students’ academic growth. School districts are stuck using NCLB’s definition of a highly qualified teacher based solely on paper credentials, without taking into account the teacher’s ability to improve student learning. And the law continues to encourage schools to narrow curriculum at the expense of important subjects such as history, civics, science, the arts and physical education. After 10 years of these flawed policies, our nation’s teachers and students deserve better.

President Obama is offering states flexibility from NCLB in exchange for comprehensive plans to raise standards; to create fair, flexible and focused accountability systems; and to improve systems for teacher and principal evaluation and support. This flexibility will not give states a pass on accountability. It will demand real reform.

So far, 39 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have expressed interest in this flexibility. The Education Department is working with the first group of applicants.

Although Congress has begun the process of reauthorizing NCLB, we can’t wait for the extended legislative process to be completed. States and school districts need relief from NCLB right now.

Congress has yet to act even though No Child Left Behind is four years overdue for renewal. Education reform requires elected officials from both sides of the aisle to come together. We can’t let partisan politics stand in the way.

One way or another, NCLB needs significant changes. Our states and schools deserve flexibility from its teach-to-the-test culture and one-size-fits-all accountability system.

Even as we work with states to offer flexibility from existing law, the Obama administration will support a bipartisan effort by Congress to create a law that supports a well-rounded education while holding schools, districts and states accountable for results.

We all need to work together so that 10 years from now, America’s children will have the sort of federal education law they so richly deserve — one that challenges them to achieve to high standards, and provides them with the highly effective teachers and principals who can prepare them for success in college and the workforce.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education.

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

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.

Weekly Address: Strengthening the American Education System

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

President Obama explains that states will have greater flexibility to find innovative ways of improving the education system, so that we can raise standards in our classrooms and prepare the next generation to succeed in the global economy.


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

Education Community Weighs In on NCLB Flexibility

“This isn’t just the right thing to do for our kids -– it’s the right thing to do for our country,” said President Obama earlier today when he announced details on how states can get relief from provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act- or No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

President Obama Greets Students

President Barack Obama greets Keiry Herrera, a sixth grade student at Graham Road Elementary School in Fairfax, Va., following remarks on the need to provide states with relief from key provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, in the East Room of the White House, Sept. 23, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

“We can’t afford to wait for an education system that is not doing everything it needs to do for our kids,” the President said. “We can’t let another generation of young people fall behind because we didn’t have the courage to recognize what doesn’t work, admit it, and replace it with something that does. We’ve got to act now.”

The education community has been weighing in on the President’s announcement, and here is a sample of what they’re saying:

National PTA: “National PTA believes this package promotes true partnership and collaborative decision-making in education reform; encouraging states and districts to engage with all stakeholders, including parents, in developing state plans and turning around failing schools.”

The Education Trust: “This plan strikes a new balance between the federal and state roles in educating our nation’s children. It does not prescribe particular systems or interventions for the vast majority of schools, instead setting strong goals for states and giving them the flexibility to determine how their schools and districts will meet them.”

National Association of Secondary School Principals: “Principal evaluation has been a front-burner topic for the past several months, and we thank the administration for promoting a model of principal evaluation that incorporates multiple measures and is developed with input from principals.”

NEA: “President Obama has taken a welcome step forward with this plan.  It sets much more realistic goals for schools, while maintaining ESEA’s original commitment to civil rights, high academic standards and success for every student,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.

Council of Great City Schools: “The Council of the Great City Schools, the nation’s primary coalition of large urban school districts, announced its support for President Obama’s proposal to waive various provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind program in exchange for an array of school reforms.”

National Association of State Boards of Education: “We want to thank the Administration for recognizing the hard work that states do under the leadership of their respective state boards of education to help make students college- and career-ready,” NASBE Executive Director Brenda Welburn said. “The law passed 10 years ago no longer reflects the progress states have made preparing America’s students for life beyond high school. It is simply unrealistic and unrelated to the work of states today.”

Council of Chief State School Officers: “The one-size-fits-all approach of our current system has become a barrier to state-level progress. We believe that the best way to move forward is for Congress to reauthorize ESEA. In the absence of congressional action, this waiver package will provide states with the authority to continue leading in accountability and education reform, and we look forward to working with our counterparts at the federal level to make sure that all children graduate from high school prepared to succeed in their future endeavors.”

Chiefs for Change: “We applaud both the flexibility waivers will grant states and districts and the reforms the Administration’s waiver policy will reward. We appreciate the Administration’s flexibility for data collection, rewarding progress, and supporting teacher effectiveness polices. Waivers like the ones the Administration laid out today – which do not weaken the rigor or accountability in No Child Left Behind – will help states improve student achievement.”

National School Boards Association: “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.”

Association of School Business Officials International: “We are encouraged and appreciate President Obama and Secretary Duncan’s insight into some of the deficiencies of NCLB,” said John Musso, Executive Director for ASBO International. “The proposed plan allows for more state and local control without compromising some of ESEA’s commitments, including setting high academic standards and an expectation of success for every student.”

Read What NCLB Flexibility Means for You

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.

Obama Administration Offers Flexibility from No Child Left Behind

Today, the Obama Administration outlined how states can get relief from provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – or No Child Left Behind (NCLB) – 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.

Get the Facts:

Sign up for email updates from ED to continue to receive information about ESEA.

Duncan on Parent Involvement and Fixing NCLB

Secretary Duncan recently sat down to respond to a few comments he received on his Facebook page.  Duncan describes the importance of parents in a student’s education, and he says that it’s important we do “everything we can do to get parents more engaged, to have them be full and equal partners with teachers, to be part of the solution.”

Secretary Duncan also responded to comments about the No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB), by noting that “the current law, as I’ve said repeatedly, is far too punitive, far too prescriptive, [and] has led to a “dumbing down” of standards, [and] to a narrowing of the curriculum.”

Since the beginning of the Obama Administration, Secretary Duncan has been working with Congress to obtain a bipartisan fix to NCLB, but Congress hasn’t acted yet. Later this week, President Obama will announce additional details on the Administration’s plan to give great teachers and great schools the flexibility they need to improve education outcomes.

Read the Top 5 Questions About NCLB Flexibility, and sign up to receive email updates on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).


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

Cleveland-area Superintendents Talk Back to Washington

Rep. Marcia Fudge, Cleveland-area school superintendents, and ED's Michael Yudin

Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) convened Tuesday's conversation with Cleveland-area school superintendents and ED's Michael Yudin.

CLEVELAND—After a morning spent with students promoting school nutrition and physical education, Acting Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Michael Yudin sat down Tuesday afternoon with superintendents from more than a dozen school districts in the Cleveland metropolitan area, including Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon, who joined Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) as co-host for the lunchtime meeting in the district’s board room.

“We can’t just talk about education. We have to do something,” Congresswoman Fudge said in opening up the conversation. “If we really want to be a country that competes, we need to prepare our young people to do it.”

Yudin, who was joined by ED Special Counsel Julie Miceli, gave an overview of the Obama administration’s cradle-to-career education strategy and talked about the importance of addressing problems with the current No Child Left Behind Law. Secretary Arne Duncan has warned that the nation’s K-12 education system is on course for a “slow-moving train wreck” unless the law is fixed and a more realistic, meaningful and effective accountability system is put in place for America’s schools.

“I agree with the Secretary… It’s a slow-moving train wreck,” said Mark Freeman, the superintendent of the Shaker Heights district. Freeman added that, “I mentioned that to some colleagues on the way down, and they said, ‘No, it’s already a wreck.’ “

Yudin agreed. The current law over-labels schools as failures, does not reward growth and does not give states and local districts flexibility to focus on their biggest problems. “It just isn’t making sense. It isn’t working for too many school districts across the country,” Yudin said. In particular, “The ability to measure growth—and real, meaningful growth—is where we need to go.”

Yudin’s office will soon be announcing a package that will allow states and school districts flexibility within the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind’s formal name) in exchange for commitments to college-and-career-ready standards, effective teaching and school leadership, and improving their lowest-performing schools.

Tuesday’s wide-ranging dialogue with local superintendents touched on special education and its financial costs, the Department’s program to turn around low-performing schools, high school graduation rates and how best to measure them, charter schools, and how to identify and nurture effective teaching.

As the superintendents thanked Yudin for visiting and taking their feedback back to Washington, he expressed his gratitude for their work in Cleveland’s communities. “Thank you all,” he said, “for your commitment to improving outcomes for kids.”

-MASSIE RITSCH
Office of Communications & Outreach

Back-to-School Bus Heads to the Great Lakes

During last week’s #AskArne Twitter Town Hall, Sarah, a third grade teacher, asked if it is possible for Arne to “tour and sponsor real town halls with educators.” This week, ED announced that Secretary Duncan and his senior staff will be holding more than 50 such events next week.

Secretary Duncan stops in New York during last year's back-to-school bus tour.

Starting on Wednesday, September 7, Secretary Duncan and senior ED staff will head to the Great Lakes Region for a Back-to-School Bus Tour. Arne will be making stops in Pittsburgh, Erie, Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit, Merrillville, Ind., Milwaukee and Chicago, and senior ED officials will be hosting dozens of events throughout the Midwest. The theme of the tour is “Education and the Economy: Investing in Our Future.”

Arne will be meeting with educators and talking with students, parents, administrators, and community stakeholders. Among the topics that Secretary Duncan and senior staff will discuss include the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, K-12 reform, transforming the teaching profession, civil rights enforcement, efforts to better serve students with disabilities and English Language Learners, Promise Neighborhoods, the Investing in Innovation (i3) fund, STEM education, increasing college access and attainment as well as vocational and adult education.

Click here for additional details on Secretary Duncan’s back-to-school bus tour stops.

You can follow the progress of this year’s Back-to-School tour right here at the ED Blog, by following #EDTour11 on Twitter, and by signing up for email updates from ED and Secretary Duncan.

Providing Our Schools Relief from No Child Left Behind

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

When I was superintendent in Chicago, I never looked forward to a call from Washington telling me what I have to do. Now that I’m in Washington, I try not to make those calls.

Our job is to support reform that is good for students at the state and local level.  We need to get out of the way wherever we can.  We need to be tight on the goals but loose on the means of achieving them — providing as much flexibility as possible, while maintaining meaningful accountability for improving student outcomes and closing achievement gaps.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) got it backwards — it was loose on the goals but tight on the means — and today it’s forcing states into one-size-fits-all solutions that just don’t work.

The President understands this and he has directed the Department of Education to move ahead in providing relief in return for reform.

With the new school year fast approaching and still no bill to reform NCLB, it’s time to create a process for states to gain flexibility from key provisions of the law, provided that they are willing to embrace education reform.

We will not be giving states a pass on accountability. There will be a high bar for states seeking flexibility within the law, working off a framework that the states themselves have put together with the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Over the past few days, I have talked with more than half of the nation’s governors, and they are pushing us to provide the relief they desperately need and want.

There is no magic bullet for fixing education, and the best ideas will always come from the local level, where hardworking men and women in our schools are doing the hard work every day to educate our children.

We’re still hopeful that Congress can continue its work this fall because a strong bipartisan reauthorization continues to be essential.  In the meantime, states and districts have an opportunity to move forward and receive relief from NCLB’s mandates.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education.