NCLB waiver amendments : simplification or oversight?

On November 14th, Assistant Secretary of Education Deborah Delisle issued a letter which drastically reduces obligations for those states which previously sought and received waivers on implementing key tenets of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. As Thesis previously reported, the national government absolved Texas, together with 41 other states and the District of Columbia, of NCLB stipulations that made teachers’ and principals’ jobs contingent on student performance on standardized tests.  This waiver, which Texas received in September, obligated signees to improve Title II-funded career-development programs and replaced standardized tests with teacher evaluations as a means to “identif[y] schools and subgroups in need and ensur[e] they receive interventions and supports.” States would then be eligible for a two-year extension of the waiver, and data collected from evaluations would have helped administrators guarantee top-echelon educators’ continued presence at high-risk schools and districts, thereby ensuring more equitable teacher distribution.

Delisle’s announcement, however, reduces the waiver extension period to one year and drops evaluation requirements as part of the waiver-granting process.  Instead, states would be required to address and correct any problem areas that the national government identifies over the course of visits and monitoring calls.  Stakeholders complained that the previous waiver requirements placed undue burdens on states that were already having difficulties implementing Common Core State Standards, and they are hoping these new measures will significantly streamline how states seek waiver extensions.

That said, the lack of a clear method and timeline for identifying and rectifying problem areas worries civil rights activists, who claim that lax evaluation requirements propagate the cycle of underqualified teachers and underachieving students in high-risk districts. Delisle’s letter states that the Department of Education will soon implement a teacher distribution strategy for all fifty states, not just for those who have received NCLB waivers. Still, The Education Trust, a non-profit devoted to “closing the gaps in opportunity and achievement [for low-income students] on the margins of the American mainstream,” called the new measures a “rubber stamp renewal of states’ current NCLB plans” that bypasses the distribution of qualified teachers and fails to assess student performance across various demographic considerations.

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