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CA Districts in DC for Final ‘No Child’ Waiver Pitch

Brianna Sacks | July 16, 2013

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CORE Executive Director Rick Miller

CORE Executive Director Rick Miller

Pressed for time, a small group of superintendents and officials from a coalition of nine California school districts, representing 1.1 million students, are on their way to D.C. to ensure that its No Child Left Behind waiver proposal is passed in time for the upcoming school year.

Representatives from the California Office to Reform Education (CORE) will be meeting with federal officials on Wednesday and are still confident that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will approve their request to be exempted from requirements of the federal law that could cause school closures if not met by 2014.

On his way to the airport, CORE Executive Director Rick Miller said the districts might have a better chance of getting the waiver passed if everyone was in the same room.

“We feel like we are really close to getting the waiver passed,” said Miller. “But it’s a 70-something page document with a lot of technical information and it’s a difficult conversation to continue to have digitally.”

LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy is joining Miller, along with superintendents from Fresno Unified, Long Beach Unified, San Francisco Unified and Oakland Unified, in an effort to speed up the federal review.

Miller said CORE has been having ongoing conversations with officials in D.C. over the past few months, but summer’s ticking clock was causing concern.

Districts are up against deadlines for contracts with companies that provide services, such as tutoring, in schools that have failed to meet NCLB’s academic targets, EdSource reported. Especially for Los Angeles Unified, these must be signed within a week or so.

After California’s waiver was rejected back in January, CORE submitted its own application to the Department of Education, marking the first time districts filed a unified proposal. Typically, a request comes from a state, and the department has already granted waivers to 39 states and the District of Columbia.

“The state board is OK with it,” said Miller. “They wrote a letter to Duncan raising some concerns but overall supported our application.”

The unique proposal raises a new and difficult question since districts took the NCLB waiver into their own hands: What role would the state play in this new accountability system?

“We are still figuring out how to make sure we are not splitting the state up,” said Miller. “It’s a very new idea.”

The group will be working through three different aspects of CORE’s proposed accountability system, known as the School Quality Improvement Index.

Intervention in low-performing schools has been one of the government’s biggest issues with the proposal, said Miller.

“We are focusing on peer review rather than having the state come in, meaning we would be paring high performing schools with struggling ones to help them improve and that hasn’t been done before in the U.S.,” said Miller.

“They want to know how that kind of locally-controlled intervention is going to work,” he added.

If the three-year waiver is approved, the coalition will have flexibility to spend $100 million in Title I dollars funded for low-income children. The districts would use some of that money for teachers and administrators to work collaboratively instead of relying on previous contracts, EdSource reported.

Controversial teacher evaluation methods will also be brought up in the D.C. meetings, especially since the coalition is developing its own way to judge teacher effectiveness.

“We’re using the Massachusetts Model System,” said Miller. “You first conduct an evaluation without student achievement data to see if they are effective and then compare that finding to student achievement in the classroom. If there is a large disconnect, you look at that.”

The group expects to stay in D.C. until Friday to ensure all issues are resolved so that students in the nine districts will not be faced with nearly impossible NLCB requirements, like becoming proficient in English and math by 2014.

“I hope the meeting lasts for a few days,” said Miller. “We will stay there for the rest of the week to make sure we get this passed.”

Previous posts: Update: Federal Review “Going In the Right Direction” for LAUSD; LA’s Most Famous Teacher Critiques Common Core; Reform Group Splits over Federal Waiver for LAUSD

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