NCLB Turbulence

Odds are high that New Jersey will apply for a waiver on No Child Left Behind sanctions, reports NJ Spotlight and The Record. The federal legislation requires 100% proficiency in math and reading for schoolchildren by 2014, a lofty yet unattainable goal. So U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has offered states an out: sign on to the national Common Core curriculum standards, implement clear accountability standards for students and teachers, and receive a Get Out of Jail Free card when 2014 rolls around.

Who can refuse such an offer? Last year 38% of America’s public schools were labeled Schools In Need of Improvement because they didn’t meet NCLB benchmarks. In NJ, 51% of schools missed the cut-off for Adequate Yearly Progress. Sec. Duncan has predicted that this year the percentage of schools missing the rising mark could be as high as 80%, especially in the subgroup of children with disabilities.

However, there’s some disagreement about whether or not Sec. Duncan’s predictions are hyperbolic. Some experts in the field have questioned whether 80% of schools will really fail NCLB benchmarks and suggested that the waiver offer is really a thinly-veiled attempt to coerce states to implement education reform desiderata like linking teacher evaluations to student growth and expanding school choice in chronically failing districts.

Charlie Barone
at Democrats for Education Reform thinks that the number of schools that fail to make AYP won’t approach Sec. Duncan’s projected 80% because of a provision written into the law that allows schools to bypass sanctions if they make “Safe Harbor.” “Safe Harbor” is achieved when a school reduces by 10% the number of students who don’t meet proficiency standards from year to year. (Maybe the federal competition should have been called Regatta to the Top.) Also, a report last April from the Center on Education Policy says “it remains to be seen” whether or not there will be a steep uptick in the number of failing schools.

You’ve got to get the Feds points for consistency. Race To The Top codified education reform measures. The federal SIG grants (School Improvement Grants) require implementation of similar measures. And now waivers for NCLB sanctions are contingent on adoption of similar assurances.

You know you're in ed reform land when stalwart opponents find themselves in the same camp. Rishawn Biddle at Dropout Nation: "Let's be clear: the Arne Duncan’s waiver gambit guts accountability." Stan Karp of NJ's Education Law Center on the tying together of ed reform measures and SIG grants: . "This will be good for testing companies, but bad for schools and students." Ed reformers are irritated by the softening of accountability standards. Status quo-ers are miffed by the sweetening of accountability standards. There's something to offend everybody.

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