U.S. Department of Education Approves ESEA Flexibility Renewal for Pennsylvania

Archived Information

U.S. Department of Education Approves ESEA Flexibility Renewal for Pennsylvania

September 8, 2015

Building on the significant progress seen in America's schools over the last six years, the U.S. Department of Education announced today that Pennsylvania has received continued flexibility from provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Pennsylvania is implementing comprehensive, state-designed plans to ensure student success and a continued commitment to college- and career-readiness for every student.

"The last six years have seen dramatic progress for America's school children. The high school dropout rate is down, and graduation rates are higher than they have ever been," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "As a result of our partnerships with state and district leaders to couple flexibility with reform, we are seeing remarkable strides and bold actions to improve student outcomes. States, districts, principals and teachers are showing incredible creativity in using different means to achieve the same goal—getting every student in America college- and career-ready."

Since this flexibility was first granted in 2012, the Department has partnered with state and district leaders to provide relief from some provisions of NCLB in exchange for taking bold actions to improve student outcomes and ensure equity for all students. Under NCLB, schools were given many ways to fail but very few opportunities to succeed. The law forced schools and districts into one-size-fits-all solutions, regardless of the individual needs and circumstances in those communities.

Under flexibility plans, states continue to focus resources on comprehensive, rigorous interventions in their lowest-performing schools and supports to help the neediest students meet high expectations alongside their peers. States also have focused on improving teacher and principal effectiveness across the country with evaluation and support systems that are used for continual improvement of instruction and provide clear, timely and useful feedback, including feedback that identifies needs and guides professional development. These systems also can be used to recognize and reward highly effective educators, as well as to inform important conversations about ensuring equitable access to effective educators for students from low-income families and students of color.

Today's announcement provides an additional year of flexibility for Pennsylvania, which is making progress when it comes to college- and career-ready standards and assessments, rigorous differentiated systems of recognition, accountability and support, and teacher and principal evaluation and support systems. The state is taking important steps toward ensuring that every child has the opportunity they deserve but needs more time to make adjustments to its flexibility plans in order to fully meet its commitments. To that end, the state is receiving a one-year renewal while it continues finalizing its plans for the future.

States need a new round of waivers to provide ongoing flexibility from top-down, prescriptive provisions of the law so that they can continue implementing innovative changes that ensure all children receive a high-quality education. These renewals provide states with stability as they continue to work on preparing all students for success in college, careers and life.

  • To assist all students in meeting its more rigorous college- and career-ready expectations, Pennsylvania is providing a repository of diverse resources to support educators through its Standards Aligned Systems website.
  • Focus and priority school designations have allowed Pennsylvania to provide more intensive support and federal financial resources to struggling schools.

In all, 42 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have received flexibility from the burdens of the existing law in order to support improved achievement in schools. All states up for renewal have submitted a request to extend their flexibility, and Nebraska requested a waiver from the law for the first time ever.

In addition to Pennsylvania's announcement today, the Department has renewed flexibility for Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The final renewal decisions will follow in the coming weeks.

In the event that Congress reauthorizes ESEA, the Department will work with states to help them transition to the new law. Duncan has called on Congress to create a bipartisan ESEA law that:

  • Gives teachers and principals the resources they need, and invests in districts and states to create innovative new solutions to increase student outcomes;
  • Makes real investments in high-poverty schools and districts, and in expanding high-quality preschool;
  • Holds high expectations for all students, and requires that where groups of students or schools are not making progress, there will be an action plan for change; Identifies schools that are consistently not making progress and dedicates extra resources and support, including in the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools that are struggling year after year; and high schools where too many students are not graduating; and
  • Addresses funding inequities for schools that serve high proportions of low-income students.

The renewal letters are available on the ESEA flexibility page.