U.S. Department of Education Approves ESEA Flexibility Renewal for Seven Additional States

Archived Information

U.S. Department of Education Approves ESEA Flexibility Renewal for Seven Additional States

July 23, 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 Alaska, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, Tennessee and Utah have each received continued flexibility from provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

These states are 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 four years of flexibility for Tennessee, and three years of flexibility for Alaska, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey and Oregon. As requested by Utah’s State Office of Education, the state is receiving a one-year renewal.

Each of these states 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. They’re taking important steps toward ensuring that every child has the opportunity they deserve. But a handful of states need more time to make adjustments to their flexibility plans in order to fully meet their commitments. To that end, some states are receiving one-year renewals while they continue finalizing their 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.

State-by-State

Alaska:

  • The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development has created a system where expert mentors and state staff work closely together to ensure that Alaska’s lowest performing schools and districts are receiving the additional supports they need to help students become college- and career-ready.
  • The state developed resources incorporating best practices for districts to use as they designed the student learning data component of their evaluation and support systems. Resources include webinars, in-person training, documents, tools and templates.

Indiana:

  • Indiana has developed and posted on its website a series of tutorial videos that model best practices and support its teachers to set and implement college- and career-ready goals for their students.
  • The state’s Division of Outreach for School Improvement uses an innovative and data based approach to assist low-performing and at-risk schools as they develop and strengthen their school improvement plans.

Maryland:

  • Flexibility has allowed Maryland to make additional resources available to low-performing schools, and they are getting additional help as a result of coordinated interventions and services through the State’s Breakthrough Center, which works closely with the state’s Priority schools to identify the precise nature and magnitude of a school’s needs and to assemble customized and strategic supports and interventions to address those needs.
  • Maryland’s community colleges are working with local high schools to develop transition courses for students whose 11th-grade assessment results indicate that they are not college- and career-ready. High school seniors in the 2016-17 school year will be able to take the courses.

New Jersey:

  • The state has implemented new educator evaluations that include multiple measures of educator practice and student achievement. Teachers rated “ineffective” or “partially ineffective” receive extra support and have the opportunity to demonstrate progress over time.
  • New Jersey has implemented several innovative support structures, such as partnerships with higher education for teacher training and student preparedness, as well as program grants to foster family-school partnerships. These structures are intended to not only support the general K-12 student population but also to target the unique needs of English learners, students with disabilities and students living in poverty.

Oregon:

  • The state jointly leads the English Language Proficiency Assessment for the 21st Century, a consortium of states developing an assessment to provide families and educators of English language learners better and more accurate information on their students’ performance.
  • ESEA flexibility has allowed Oregon to focus energy and resources around critical school improvement and school turnaround efforts that are producing results. Oregon’s School Improvement Team provides ongoing, responsive and data-based technical assistance to priority and focus schools, monitors and supports schools and districts in the important work of improving student performance, and regularly reviews progress to make sure the work stays on track. This process helps to identify trends and bright spot, and allows for adjustments, as needed, to ensure schools and districts are receiving the supports to turn things around for kids.

Tennessee:

  • The state set customized goals for achievement based on how students had done in the past—moving away from the “one-size-fits-all” model required under No Child Left Behind and focusing on student growth instead.
  • The newly approved waiver also allows the state to acknowledge the growth of students who are the farthest behind. The system will now acknowledge student progress from the lowest achievement level (below basic) to the next level (basic).

Utah:

  • ESEA flexibility has enabled the state to more accurately identify low-performing schools and to engage in turnaround models that require schools to have leadership teams, hire an outside school support team leader, and participate in a full school appraisal, which identifies a school’s strengths and challenges. Schools are required to report to the community in an open local board meeting.
  • Being able to use research and development to attribute student success to teacher effectiveness has been a positive lever in Utah for promoting best instructional practices.

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 the states being announced today, the Department has renewed flexibility for Delaware, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. More 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;
  • Addresses funding inequities for schools that serve high proportions of low-income students.

The renewal letters are available on the ESEA flexibility page.