Policy | News

ED Issues First NCLB Waivers to California Districts

In an unprecedented move, the United States Department of Education has extended waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) directly to eight urban school districts in California. Beginning this fall, districts in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento, among others, will be able to set their own flexible standards, as well as decide how they wish to spend approximately $150 million in federal funds designed to help low-income and low-performing students.

Although Ed has relaxed NCLB rules regarding accountability, standardized testing, and spending in 39 states and the District of Columbia over the past few years, this is the first time individual districts have been granted waivers. 

Uniting as the non-profit organization California Office to Reform Education (CORE), the eight districts, which include Los Angeles Unified School District, Fresno Unified School District, Sacramento City Unified School District, Oakland Unified School District, San Francisco Unified School District, Sanger Unified School District, Santa Ana Unified School District, and Long Beach Unified School District, represent 1.1 million students, or 20 percent of the state's student population.

"The CORE districts have been engaged in collaboration and innovation designed to promote deep student learning and effective implementation of new standards that will prepare students for college and a career," said U. S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a prepared statement. "The districts' approved plan includes key accountability components that when implemented will surpass the rigor of the current NCLB system and provide an opportunity to expand innovative interventions and practices that can improve student achievement, rather than spending time and resources implementing NCLB's one-size-fits-all mandates. The significance of their willingness to step up, and for the first time, hold themselves accountable for literally tens of thousands of children who were invisible under NCLB cannot be overstated."

Although the CORE districts have agreed to follow the recommended Common Core academic standards and assessments for the state, standardized tests will have a different function.  Moving away from using the tests as a tool for measuring whether or not a school receives federal dollars, the tests will instead help identify those students who require additional help. Test scores will also help districts assess a school's overall performance and make improvements in the areas where they fall short.

Critics of district waivers have voiced concerns ranging from federal overreach and undermining the authority of state superintendents and the state's authority to hold schools accountable for student progress to fears that the waiver sets up a privatized "shadow" system of education that could subject children to market exploitation and profiteering.

Participating districts, however, said they believe that accountability will improve, citing examples of subgroups, such as students with disabilities or who are not fluent in English, were often excluded under NCLB because of their smaller numbers that will now be included in the CORE accountability model.

"We're convinced this will, over time, result in better outcomes for the more than 1 million students these districts serve," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

For information about CORE, visit coredistricts.org.

About the Author

Sharleen Nelson is a freelance journalist based in Springfield, Oregon. She can be reached at snelson858@comcast.net.

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