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

August 6, 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 Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Mississippi, New Hampshire and Wisconsin 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 three years of flexibility for Alabama, Connecticut, Mississippi, and Wisconsin, and an additional year for Arizona, Arkansas and New Hampshire. 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.


  • Alabama created a Principal Leadership Network to ensure that principals in its lowest-performing, or priority, schools have the support to be effective leaders in these schools, as measured by the state's principal evaluation and support system. Through this program, regional cohorts of principals gather regularly to discuss strategies for school improvement, participate in professional development, and visit to model classrooms and schools throughout the state.
  • The state has identified exemplar schools and classrooms that have shown progress in closing achievement gaps for students with disabilities. School leaders and teachers from across the State can visit these classrooms to observe strong practices.


  • Arizona's lowest-performing schools implement research-based strategies to improve student performance. These schools implement strategies, such as implementing data-driven professional learning communities and increasing family engagement, that are informed by a needs assessment conducted with the participation of the general school community. Each school also sets performance targets for the school and specific subgroups, particularly those students in the bottom quartile.
  • Arizona is tailoring supports and interventions to fit the context of the school and community. For example, in online schools the state is requiring interventions that are consistent with those of traditional schools, but allowing some modifications to address the unique learning environments of these schools.


  • ESEA Flexibility has allowed Arkansas to increase district, school and agency data collection and feedback loops. Locally hired school improvement specialists in focus and priority schools provide weekly formative data reports to the state's school improvement specialists, who in turn provide quarterly progress reports to the State Board of Education. These reports can help drive target support and resources. If focus and priority schools continue to struggle after three years, the level of reporting and support increases.
  • Arkansas has improved the process for identifying and serving underperforming schools, and for including other Title I schools with achievement gaps, but not identified as the lowest-performing schools in the state, in receiving intervention services by having each school develop a single Comprehensive School Improvement Plan that also functions as the school's application for federal program funds. As a result, not only has the State reduced bureaucratic/paperwork burden for schools but also instituted a framework that better targets resources to address student needs.


  • To strengthen its capacity to better address and support the needs of schools and students, Connecticut has added new offices and staff focused on performance, talent, and turnaround.
  • Connecticut has created the Commissioner's Network—a system that supports chronically low-performing schools. A Network designee from the Connecticut State Department of Education's Turnaround Office coordinates school and classroom walkthroughs, reviews achievement data, facilitates progress check-ins and mid-year reviews, and provides timely communication, coaching and feedback. The Commissioner's Network is built on mutual commitment and partnership with stakeholders, and has served as a platform for sharing effective practices for schools and districts throughout the state.


  • ESEA flexibility has allowed Mississippi to replace one-size-fits all interventions with a focus on ensuring that its lowest-performing schools get the context-specific supports they need to improve student learning, including, the development of an online system that enables school districts to differentiate interventions for those schools.
  • Mississippi has utilized ESEA Flexibility to support and strengthen effective instruction and school leadership through statewide implementation of an educator evaluation system. The Mississippi Statewide Teacher Appraisal Rubric includes multiple measures for evaluating teachers on all standards and obtaining a comprehensive understanding of their areas of strength and challenge in order to improve student learning. Mississippi provided training to all evaluators and teachers on the new rubric and posted training videos on the Mississippi Department of Education's website and iTunes U.

New Hampshire:

  • The New Hampshire Department of Education (NHDOE) has aligned its long-standing student-level data system—Initiatives for School Empowerment and Excellence—with its vision for a robust, multiple-measure data system that provides timely and reliable school and student data to teachers, administrators, parents and the community. By providing user-friendly data in a more timely fashion, stakeholders are empowered to make informed decisions that improve educational outcomes for students.
  • NHDOE has developed an online New Hampshire Network to provide educators throughout the state an opportunity to learn from each other by sharing success stories, and by seeking advice from their colleagues on how to handle challenges. NHDOE gathers information on the utility and ease of the network, regularly gathers feedback from users and consistently makes iterative improvements to increase the usability and usefulness of this online network.


  • ESEA flexibility has allowed the state to move from a one-size-fits-all model of support to a system that targets resources to priority and focus schools to concentrate on data analysis and professional development to address achievement gaps and support the needs of all students.
  • Wisconsin established the Literacy and Mathematics team in 2012 to support the work of school districts raising literacy and math expectations for all students. Through virtual and in-person professional development, key partnerships with school and district leaders, and the establishment of statewide literacy and math coaching networks, this team has worked to ensure all schools have access to high quality instructional practices, meaningful assessment strategies, and deep and rich subject-matter expertise in these critical areas.

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 Alaska, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, 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.