As of March 2012, only 8 states had yet to announce an intention to submit an application to be excused from certain requirement of the No Child Left Behind Act. After less than seven days in office, newly appointed Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams has announced that he will submit an application for a NCLB waiver as soon as possible.
This marks a change of course for Texas, whose previous education commissioner, Robert Scott, was adamant about not taking advantage of the waiver opportunity offered by the Obama administration. For Texas, it was a matter of ideology. To apply for a waiver would be to invite federal scrutiny into its education system — something that the independent-minded state wasn’t willing to do. Similar reasoning also kept it from applying for Race to the Top program, leading Texas to reject several education grants offered as part of the stimulus package passed by Congress in 2010.
The announcement that Texas will now submit a waiver application was greeted with enthusiasm by local school superintendents, who said that they welcomed the change of heart, but found it entirely unexpected. In a letter to the superintendents announcing the change, Williams said that it was time to admit that NCLB was outdated and obsolete, and being freed from certain provisions of the act would allow Texas to take steps to improve the academic achievement of its students by improving the quality of its schools and its teachers.
The spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency said the change originated entirely from Williams.
“One of the big changes that we hope we’ll see is one unified (school) rating system because, normally, now we issue the state ratings at the end of August and then, a few weeks later, we issue the federal ratings and they often don’t match,” Ratcliffe said. “We think that’s been confusing to parents and educators and we like our system better.”
More than 70 percent of Texas school districts failed to meet federal accountability standards this year. In Bexar County, three of 16 districts met the standards.
If the waiver application is approved, Texas will be excused from meeting a requirement that 100% of its students be at grade level in literacy and mathematics by 2014. Schools that fail to meet the target can be stripped of funding, undergo a staff overhaul and even face closure.
The state also plans to ask for some flexibility in the way it can spend certain federal dollars.
“No Child Left Behind now dictates certain percentages of money that would be used for remediation or transportation and we think a lot of those decisions are best made locally,” Ratcliffe said.