U.S. Department of Education Approves ESEA Flexibility Renewals for 5 States, Puerto Rico

Archived Information

U.S. Department of Education Approves ESEA Flexibility Renewals for 5 States, Puerto Rico

July 9, 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 Delaware, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Puerto Rico 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 and Puerto Rico 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.”

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.

So far, the Department has renewed flexibility for Kentucky, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, New York, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. More renewal decisions will follow in the coming weeks.

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 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.

Today’s announcement provides an additional three years of flexibility for Rhode Island, South Carolina and Puerto Rico and an additional year for Delaware, Massachusetts and Oklahoma.

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.

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


  • ESEA flexibility has allowed Delaware to focus on ensuring that its neediest schools serve students better and close achievement gaps through significant reforms such as providing extended learning time and accelerated instruction opportunities.
  • Delaware is providing extensive in-person and online support for staff implementing teacher and principal evaluation and support systems in order to ensure that those systems provide feedback that educators can actually use to improve their instructional practice.


  • Massachusetts is updating its school accountability system in important and creative ways—by decreasing the number of students whose educational needs go unmet because they fall through the cracks of the system and encouraging schools to focus on improving learning outcomes for English learners by giving credit to schools and districts whose students make strong gains in English language proficiency.


  • ESEA flexibility has led Oklahoma to dramatically improve the way it engages community stakeholders in developing and implementing policy, making it more likely that these policies really work for students and teachers. For instance, the state now has several standing focus groups and advisory committees comprised of education professionals as well as parents, students and representatives from business and community groups.
  • Oklahoma has also developed an Office of School Turnaround, which provides coaching, professional development and technical assistance to support students, teachers and administrators in priority schools.

Rhode Island

  • Rhode Island has consulted extensively with leaders of priority and focus schools to inform improvements in the state’s neediest schools.
  • To enhance targeted interventions and supports, Rhode Island is building an Instructional Support System that will provide educators, principals and district administrators access to data dashboards with key performance indicators and longitudinal data on student performance. The system will also provide teacher resources and eventually they will expand the system to include a professional development platform, early warning system, and school diagnostic screening tool.

South Carolina

  • South Carolina has focused on using data to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for students. The state has created an innovative set of data dashboards that can be used by school guidance counselors, parents and educators to identify individual student needs and inform timely, accurate and effective educational strategies and activities to address those needs.

Puerto Rico:

  • The Puerto Rico Department of Education has supported its neediest schools by creating a comprehensive leadership development academy for school principals, as well as an online planning tool that helps schools select appropriate interventions and supports in priority and focus schools as well as other Title I schools that are at risk of slipping into focus or priority status.

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.