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NCLB sanctions and waivers: what should educational leaders look for?

August 25, 2011

The blogs and education news sites have been abuzz the last few weeks about Secretary Duncan’s announcements of potential waivers from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)/No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements for states, local educational agencies, and schools.  To date, four states have applied for waivers and one was granted permission to use the sameAdequate Yearly Progress (AYP) proficiency targets for a third year in a row.  Among the states that have sent waiver requests to the Secretary of Education, AYP proficiency targets, highly qualified teachers, and NCLB sanctions seem to be a common thread.

As 2014 and the 100% proficiency target for all AYP subgroups nears, more local educational agencies and schools are finding themselves offering choice with transportation and Supplemental Educational Services (SES) or entering corrective action and restructuring. Thesecostly endeavorshave produced little of the expected benefits envisioned during the reauthorization of ESEA.  Tennessee was the first state that requested a waiver from the NCLB sanctions, particularly choice with transportation, SES, and district and school improvement requirements.  Minnesota has followed suit and stated in their request that implementation of these key NCLB “financial” sanctions have not produced the intended results or improved student success.  Indeed, preliminary research has shown that NCLB choice with transportation has little impact on achievement at either the sending or the receiving schools.  Implementation of SES is an even more costly endeavor, requiring intensive administration at the local educational agency level and little or no significant impact on the achievement of participating students. Further, implementing corrective actions and school restructuring measures, such as replacing school staff, decreasing school-level management authority, or reopening the school as a charter or under an educational management organization, have failed to improve significantly failing schools.

It looks as if sweeping changes are on the horizon in regard to NCLB sanctions. It is too early to predict the stance that the Administration will take and if the conditions attached to the waivers will be more restrictive and costly to local educational system agencies.  While early rumors suggested that adoption of the Common Core Standards would be one of the conditions, Secretary Duncan publicly noted that this would not be the case. Local educational agencies and school leaders should contact their administrative offices about what, if any, waivers they will be requesting. Also, keep an eye out for your State Educational Agency’s waiver request. They are required to publicly notice it and collect comments before the request is submitted to the US Department of Education.

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