U.S. Department of Education Approves ESEA Flexibility Renewal for 7 States, D.C.

Archived Information

U.S. Department of Education Approves ESEA Flexibility Renewal for 7 States, D.C.

June 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 Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, New York, West Virginia and the District of Columbia have each received multiple years of continued flexibility from provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

These states and D.C. 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.”

The Department granted flexibility and approved waivers for 42 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia from the burdens of the existing law in order to support improved achievement in schools. All of the states up for renewal have submitted or will soon submit a request to extend their flexibility, and Nebraska requested a waiver from the law for the first time ever. More renewal decisions will follow in the weeks to come.

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 forc

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 have also focused on improving teacher and principal effectiveness across the country with evaluation and support systems that are used for continual improvement of instruction, provide clear, timely, and useful feedback, including feedback that identifies needs and guides professional development, and 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.

In March, the Department approved five state requests for ESEA flexibility - Kentucky, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina and Virginia—for an additional four years, through the 2018-2019 school year. Today’s announcement gives Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, West Virginia and the District of Columbia a three-year flexibility renewal through the 2017-18 school year, and New York a four-year renewal through the 2018-19 school year.

A strong, bipartisan reauthorization of ESEA, which has been due for Congressional action since 2007, remains the first priority for the Department. But until a new law is in place, NCLB continues to stand. This means states need a new round of waivers that provide 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:

District of Columbia:

  • Implementation of the ESEA flexibility waiver has supported the District’s efforts to adopt and implement new academic standards and rigorous assessments aligned to college- and career-ready expectations in English Language Arts, math and science.
  • The Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s renewal request reflects an effort to provide continuing and expanded supports to meet the needs of students and educators. As a result of the District’s new State System of Support, it will be better positioned to deliver targeted professional development based on educators’ needs.


  • Georgia has aligned its differentiated recognition and accountability system with its College and Career Ready Performance Index. This means Georgia now uses its Index to identify reward, priority and focus schools, and to establish exit criteria for priority and focus schools, thus making the system more transparent and clear to educators, parents and the public.
  • Flexibility has allowed the state to improve the methods it uses to identify and serve underperforming schools and to include other Title I schools not identified as priority or focus in these services. These schools also receive incentives and supports aligned to their annual Index reports and measured against performance targets.
  • Georgia has supported college and career readiness by enabling middle school students taking advanced, high school level math and science courses to take the high school level end-of-course assessment early, in place of the end-of-grade assessment.


  • The Hawaii Department of Education (HIDOE) has aligned its reform efforts and internal systems and processes to leverage progress toward outcomes. The state’s strategic plan is the guiding vision that connects the approved request for ESEA flexibility and the Race to the Top plan by focusing on six key priority strategies: Common Core State Standards (CCSS); a comprehensive system of student supports, including Response to Intervention; formative instruction and the data teams process; the Educator Effectiveness System; induction and mentoring; and academic review teams.
  • HIDOE has designed a comprehensive and integrated structure to provide customized support to schools and gather feedback to improve state office performance, through the use of its Complex Area Support Teams (CAST). These teams provide individualized technical assistance to Complex Areas and schools for each of the six priority strategies. All Complex Areas that have focus and priority schools, and charter schools designated as focus and priority schools, receive additional support and oversight through a state-funded academic officer.  
  • HIDOE engages in a variety of activities to support full implementation of common core. These activities include support through the CCSS CAST lead; access to CCSS-aligned implementation protocols, crosswalks, curriculum frameworks, webinars and sample performance tasks for English Language Arts and math on the state’s standards toolkit website; access to additional resources through the Open Educational Resources project; and selection of statewide curriculum materials vetted by teachers and state office staff.


  • Kansas has identified the lowest-performing schools in the state and works closely with districts to ensure that effective interventions are in place to boost academic performance at each of these schools. Kansas implements yearly school-, district-, and state-level requirements in its lowest performing schools, including a comprehensive school action plan, a district needs assessment and a three-year action plan. The state’s improvement process also includes a district coordinator, a team of district- and school-level staff for ongoing monitoring and adjustments that may be necessary, and a state-level team that integrates staff from across the agency to provide ongoing support, monitoring, and critical feedback as necessary.
  • All districts in Kansas are implementing a statewide teacher and principal evaluation and support system based on Kansas Education Evaluation Guidelines. Districts are implementing nuanced evaluation and support systems that include multiple qualitative and quantitative indicators, and provide a robust set of feedback to help teachers and principals improve their practice.


  • The state has placed school-based data teams made of teachers of core subjects and State Education Agency staff within all priority and focus schools. Teams develop school accountability plans and meet regularly to analyze and discuss student progress on formative assessments in English language arts and math and to share best practices.
  • Another major outcome of the state’s ESEA flexibility has been the Diverse Learner Amplification Project, completed in October 2014.  Teachers for English language learners and students with disabilities, and core academic teachers from all parts of Missouri, participated in work to ensure that English language learners, students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged students not only develop the academic language required to be successful in core curriculum, but also develop skills that will allow them to go on to a successful post-secondary program.


  • Nevada established an alternative school performance framework to rate approved schools that serve certain populations with high-risk factors; identify underperforming schools as turnaround schools; and provide incentives to encourage employment at schools designated as turnaround.
  • Nevada established the Achievement School District within the Nevada Department of Education, which authorizes certain underperforming schools to be converted to achievement charter schools.
  • Nevada adopted a statewide framework for educator evaluations, including uniform, professional educator standards and clear performance expectations.

New York:

  • The state’s ESEA flexibility has allowed it to target resources and support to districts with the greatest needs rather than continuing to identify schools for improvement, corrective action and restructuring. In addition, the state has been able to share innovative best practices from Title I Reward Schools with other schools in the state. Now schools with the greatest needs are getting more direct support.
  • New York has been able to focus on the equitable distribution of effective teacher talent. One major way this is being accomplished is through the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Continuum, which is a seven-component plan designed to improve the quality, quantity and diversity of the teacher workforce. This innovative system focuses on all areas of an educator’s professional practice, including preparation while in a college-setting, recruitment and placement, mentoring, and performance management.

West Virginia

  • West Virginia has developed a program that provides continuous support for priority schools, utilizing dedicated state-level school improvement coordinators who meet weekly with school leadership teams to determine the specific needs of each school and to provide a customized approach to school improvement. 
  • West Virginia has implemented its Educator Evaluation System statewide, which included training approximately 1,000 teacher-leaders through the state’s Teacher Leadership Institute. The Teacher Leadership Institute focused on integrating student learning goals as integral components of instructional planning, delivery and assessment. Educators are able to receive customized professional development based on their needs as determined through self-assessments and their evaluators’ performance reviews. The new focus is on personalized support for teachers, with the goal of improving instruction and learning outcomes for all students.

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.