Education Department Wants Stricter Guidelines for NCLB Waiver Renewals

To receive continued flexibility, states must take their accountability measures one step further.

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Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants states that circumvent key parts of No Child Left Behind to craft their own guidelines by which to improve.

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The Department of Education announced on Thursday it will allow states to renew waivers allowing them to circumvent key requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. But in order to extend that flexibility for two more years, the department is expecting states to take their accountability measures up a notch.

[READ: No Child Left Behind Waived For 8 California School Districts ]

The future of the sweeping education law is uncertain, as its long-overdue renewal process has stalled in Congress. But the department is allowing states to apply for a two-year renewal of the waivers, which excuse them from certain accountability measures under the No Child Left Behind legislation passed during the early part of President George W. Bush's first term.. In exchange, the states must develop their own accountability systems that ensure students will meet "college- and career-ready" standards, and that schools will work to close achievement gaps and improve instruction.

The education reform law was enacted in 2002 and has drawn criticism from education professionals for inadvertently encouraging states to set low academic standards in order to meet its requirements.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement the law is "outmoded and constrains state and district efforts for innovation and reform." The best way to resolve that problem, Duncan said, is for legislators to take action on amending the law, which is six years overdue for congressional reauthorization. But because legislators have been unable to reach an agreement on the terms of the reauthorization, the department began issuing waivers that address problems with NCLB.

"The waiver renewal process announced today will support states in continuing positive change and ensuring all children receive a high-quality education – but I look forward to a day when we can announce a [modification of the] law that supports every state," Duncan said.

[DEBATE CLUB: Should Congress Pass the No Child Left Behind Rewrite? ]

Since the department began issuing waivers in 2011, 41 states, the District of Columbia and eight California school districts have been approved. Of those approved, 34 states and the District of Columbia have waivers that will expire at the end of the 2013-14 school year, and are eligible for the department's two-year extension, through the end of the 2015-16 school year.

But in order to do so, the states must present plans demonstrating they are on track to fulfill the requirements of their original waivers – such as implementing college- and career-ready standards, implementing strict accountability systems to support low-performing schools and students and implementing teacher evaluation systems – and have a plan to continue doing so through the 2015-16 school year.

And in a new guidance issued Thursday, the department is also asking states to use data by October 2015 from their teacher-evaluation systems (to be implemented by the 2014-15 school year) to ensure that low-income and minority students are not being instructed by ineffective teachers at higher rates than other students.

[OPINION: 3 Ways to Support Common Core ]

The renewal process will also allow states to make any adjustments to their approved plans, according to Scott Sargrad, deputy assistant secretary of the department's Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. On Aug. 15, the department threatened to revoke NCLB waivers for Kansas, Oregon and Washington to be on a "high-risk" status because the states have not developed teacher-evaluation systems that measure student growth and performance.

"We'll just be expecting them to have resolved any of the issues related to their high-risk status prior to receiving the renewal," Sargrad said in a call with reporters on Thursday. "By the time that we would approve [their renewal requests] we would want to make sure that all those issues had been resolved."

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