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

Archived Information

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

August 21, 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 Florida, Idaho, Ohio and South Dakota have 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 one year of flexibility for Florida, Ohio, Idaho, and South Dakota. 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. These states also 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, and South Dakota's waiver is being put on high-risk because of serious problems with its guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation and support systems.

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 support school districts in increasing the number of middle school students with early access to high school-level courses, Florida has increased the number of high school courses available to middle grades students and has continued to include acceleration in its accountability system. Together, these changes have led to an increase in the number of students in grades 6 to 8 who have taken the high school courses and end-of course assessments.

  • To support the implementation of its college- and career-ready standards, the Florida Department of Education's Office of Communications has unveiled a new website that includes materials and videos for parents, educators and the public on what quality standards-based instruction looks like.


  • Idaho uses its ESEA flexibility waiver to provide additional support and flexibility to schools and districts across the state. The state specifically targets college- and career-readiness, access to early childhood education, and building a mutually responsible environment that is adaptive, innovative, and drives continuous improvement.


  • To reduce testing time and ensure alignment between what happens in the classroom and what is assessed, Ohio is allowing middle school students that are taking advanced, high school level courses such as Algebra I, Geometry, English Language Arts I & II, and Biology to take the corresponding end-of-course, high school-level assessment instead of the typically required middle school assessment. This will incentivize more students to take advanced college- and career-ready courses.

  • Based on stakeholder feedback, Ohio has developed the Ohio Improvement Process to support its lowest-performing school districts. These districts will be assigned Transformation Specialists and State Support Teams who will ensure the proper implementation of the appropriate intervention models throughout the improvement process. In addition, these teams will provide professional development and on-site coaching to district and building leadership teams as well as school leaders.

South Dakota

  • Preparing for and implementing ESEA flexibility led the South Dakota Department of Education to take a new approach to how the work of the agency is accomplished. As a result, barriers among divisions have come down, and staff work more collaboratively and more cohesively than ever before. This ultimately has led to more effective work on behalf of South Dakota's 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 the states being announced today, the Department has renewed flexibility for Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, 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.