Press Release

WASHINGTON (August 29, 2013) — The NCLB waiver process has been far from perfect. Among other things, the initial waiver guidelines allowed states to radically reduce the emphasis on subgroup performance and were totally silent on one of the most important issues of our day: fair and equitable access to strong teachers.

In the renewal guidelines released today, the Department of Education took some steps — though in some cases, far too small — to address these and other problems.

  • Equitable Access to Quality Teachers. After 12 years of ignoring the requirements in federal law to ensure that poor students and students of color get their fair share of strong teachers, the Department of Education has asked states to include in their renewal application both a description of their current work on inequities in teacher assignment and a plan for integrating effectiveness information into their work by 2015. While this is a step in the right direction, they’ve undercut the power of this approach by being far too vague in what is required, especially in light of the track record on equitable access. We hope they will correct this with additional materials, and that they will demand specificity — and ambition — from states through the review process.
  • Making the Achievement of Student Groups Matter. In the initial waiver guidelines, the department required that states set achievement goals for every group of children, but did not require that progress against those goals actually matter in school ratings. Indeed, all states were required to do was to submit vague plans for “helping” schools where groups consistently failed to meet goals. Those requirements have been beefed up in the renewal guidelines. But once again, performance against goals doesn’t have to affect school ratings even when goals are missed every year.
  • Implementation of New College- and Career-Ready Standards. Though states were asked in their original applications to detail their plans for supporting teachers in teaching to new standards, most said very little and still got their waivers. In the renewal guidelines, the department takes a step in the right direction by asking for more robust information and more transparency, particularly around the use of Title II dollars.
  • Getting Clearer About the District Role. While districts play a critical role in standards implementation, teacher support and evaluation, and school improvement, they are often missing in federal policy. The waiver renewal process requires states to be clearer about the district role, at least in the area of school turnaround. The department should have gone much further, though, by asking states to clearly specify roles for districts in the implementation of new standards and in the improvement of teaching, and to clarify the sources of evidence they will use to monitor the quality of their districts’ work.
  • Aligning Accountability Systems to Reflect the Transition to New Standards. As states begin assessing students against new, more rigorous standards, the percentage of students meeting standards will drop significantly. This will have to be reflected in state accountability systems through re-set achievement goals, among other changes. By not asking states to lay out their thinking about this coming change, the department missed a big opportunity to get in front of what could be a collision between new standards and accountability systems pegged to old assessments.