The U.S. Education Department has decided to abandon two No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver requirements, with education advocates warning that the decision will hurt disadvantaged students.
In August, the Department announced that by October 2015 it would require states to use teacher evaluation data to ensure that poor and minority students are not taught by ineffective teachers at a higher rate than their peers.
The Department had also planned to mandate that states and districts improve the use of federal Title II funds for professional development, with a requirement that districts spend the money on “evidence-based” programs and link them to new college- and career-ready standards, according to Michele McNeil of Education Week.
Now, the Department said it is not only doing away with those two requirements, but also shortening the renewals from two years to one year, writes Allie Bidwell of US News.
Department officials said they plan to develop a 50-state strategy that is not limited to the 42 states plus the District of Columbia that have waivers. According to Department officials, by the end of January, they will have begun a process of putting teeth into existing Title I and Title II laws.
The waiver renewals have also been amended to be for only one year, from the original plan of a two-year extension. States will have until the end of February — or 60 days after they get their federal monitoring report— to apply for a waiver extension.
Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust, an advocacy group that focuses on closing achievement gaps, said in a statement that the guidelines would have addressed “glaring problems” with its initial waiver process, and that the decision to remove those requirements was “baffling – and extremely disappointing.”
“Through its actions today, the Department allows states to continue giving schools top ratings regardless of how student groups perform,” Haycock said. “And it also allows them to keep sweeping under the rug the gaps in teacher quality that contribute so heavily to long-standing achievement gaps.”
According to Melissa Lazarin, director of education policy at the Center for American Progress, the Department could be responding to the myriad changes already undertaken by the states.
Many states are implementing the Common Core State Standards, developing new assessments to align with those standards, and as a result of the initial NCLB waiver process are working to redesign their teacher evaluation and accountability systems.
“At the same time, the traditional federal role has always been to focus and look out for the most disadvantaged students,” Lazarin said. “I think it will be very important for the department to outline a clear process and timeframe for addressing, in particular, the need to ensure that every student has equitable access to a great teacher.”
The Department began issuing waivers for the act, formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, in 2011. Since then, 42 states, the District of Columbia, and eight California school districts have been approved, and of those states, 34 and the District of Columbia have waivers that will expire at the end of this school year.
The states are now required to present plans showing the conditions for the original waivers were being met now, as well as for the 2015-16 school year.