Dept of Ed to Waiver States: Do More

Nearly every state that applied for a waiver from No Child Left Behind has been criticized for either not setting enough high goals for all student groups or for having failed to create sufficient incentives to close the achievement gap, says the Department of Education.

The concerns were outlined in letters sent last December by the administration to the 11 states that have applied for a waiver, writes the Associated Press.

While all 11 states were criticized, Indiana was cited for its "inattention" to certain groups, like students still learning the English language, while New Mexico's plan was tagged for not including accountability and interventions for student subgroups based on factors like achievement and graduation rates.

The department also criticized Florida, as its plan may overlook some groups of minority students.

Daren Briscoe, a department spokesman, said:

"Our priority is protecting children and maintaining a high bar even as we give states more flexibility to get more resources to the children most in need, even if that means the process takes a little longer than we anticipated."

Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, said:

"The current law means that each group of kids, whether they are children with a disability, or African-American, or poor kids, have attention paid to them, because the schools are accountable for each and every group.

"But what the states are asking is that they all be lumped together."

Minnesota was criticized for "the lack of incentives to improve achievement for all groups of students and narrow achievement gap between subgroups."

Sam Kramer, federal education policy specialist for the Minnesota Department of Education, said most of that criticism was focused on graduation rates that the state did not take into account.

Kramer said he thinks Minnesota will be better able to meet the requirements after switching to a system that will take into account how subgroups of students did in meeting those graduation targets.

"No Child Left Behind was very good at diagnosing the problem," Kramer said.

"It was very good at shining a light on the differences between subgroups.

"We are going to be able to go in and be flexible and reactive to the specific needs of those subgroups."

However, Pedro Noguera, an education professor at New York University, said believes that the struggle to lift the performance of different groups won't be solved by waivers.

"We need to make sure the districts and schools feel some pressure to make sure that all the students they are responsible for are being educated," he said.

"However, they need to focus on different kinds of evidence, and not merely performance on a standardized test. That's where they don't get it."

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