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ED: States applying for NCLB waivers should do more to reach students

In their applications for waivers from NCLB rules, states didn't do enough to ensure that schools would be held accountable for the performance of all students, ED says.

In its initial review of No Child Left Behind waiver requests, the U.S. Education Department (ED) highlighted a similar weakness in nearly every application: States did not do enough to ensure schools would be held accountable for the performance of all students.

The Obama administration praised the states for their high academic standards. But nearly every application was criticized for being loose about setting high goals and, when necessary, interventions for all student groups—including minorities, the disabled, and low-income students—or for failing to create sufficient incentives to close the achievement gap.

Under No Child Left Behind, schools where even one group of students falls behind are considered out of compliance and subject to interventions. The law has been championed for helping shed light on education inequalities, but most now agree it is due for change.

Indiana’s proposal to opt out of the federal law’s strictest requirements was criticized by ED for its “inattention” to certain groups, like students still learning the English language. New Mexico’s plan, a panel of peer reviewers noted, did not include accountability and interventions for student subgroups based on factors like achievement and graduation rates. In Florida, the department expressed concern that the performance of some groups of students could go overlooked.

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The concerns were outlined in letters sent last December by the administration to the 11 states that have applied for a waiver. Since then, state and federal officials have been talking about how to address the concerns; some states have already agreed to changes.

The letters were obtained by The Associated Press for all of the states except Tennessee and Kentucky, which declined to provide them until an announcement is made on whether a waiver is granted. ED previously has said it expected to notify states by mid-January.

“Our priority is protecting children and maintaining a high bar even as we give states more flexibility to get more resources to the children most in need, even if that means the process takes a little longer than we anticipated,” said Daren Briscoe, a department spokesman.

Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, said federal officials are in a challenging spot.

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