Eight school districts in California have been granted an individual exemption from the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act this week, breaking the pattern set by the Obama Administration to grant such exemptions to states only.
The waiver means that schools in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Fresno, Sacramento, Santa Ana and Sanger – which all applied together as a consortium – will get at least one year's grace on the most stringent of NCLB provisions, like the requirement that 100% of the district's students demonstrate proficiency in math and reading. In addition, this will allow the districts to avoid labeling any schools that do not to meet these benchmarks as failing and force staffing and administration changes on them.
In return for the waiver, the districts promised to evaluate schools, teachers and principals using a wide range of measures including test scores, suspension rates, attendance and graduation rates. Those measures would then be used to identify needy schools and improve them rather than punish them.
The waiver gives districts more flexibility over how to spend federal funds, especially those to help low-income children. Under No Child Left Behind, failing schools are forced to provide tutoring to students, and parents can choose from a list of public or private tutoring services.
With the waiver, the districts can spend the money on any kind of service for low-income students.
The waiver also gives the eight districts substantial freedom of autonomy. They will adopt student and teacher evaluation systems that will be different from those required for other California schools, with schools in districts making up to consortium to be evaluated based on student improvements on test scores, school drop-out and graduation rates.
In San Francisco, the waiver will free up at least $700,000 that had to be spent on tutors or letters to parents about their "failing" school, said Superintendent Richard Carranza. In addition, teachers will no longer have to focus on what's tested each spring, Carranza said.
No Child Left Behind "meant you were a failure or not based on your English and math scores," he said. "So guess what? Welcome to science, welcome to social studies, music and art.
"It all counts now."
Although such waivers have been granted to most states in the country, California declined to apply for one due to opposition from the state's teachers unions. Specifically, the unions opposed the adoption of a new assessment system that would link teacher rankings to student performance which would be a requirement of any federal waiver.