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No Child Left Behind Waiver for CA Districts Includes ‘Unique’ Oversight Panel*

Brianna Sacks | August 6, 2013

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imagesIn granting eight CA school districts a No Child Left Behind waiver, the federal government is creating for the first time an oversight body to measure schools’ progress.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the panel “unique” among the waivers granted to 39 states and the District of Columbia.

“We went back and forth about how to have oversight and hold these districts accountable,” said Duncan. “The panel idea was a significant improvement from the system they first proposed.”

The 14-member oversight body will provide an “unbiased external compliance review” of each district’s progress after a series of self- and peer-evaluations.

The group includes a Governor’s appointee and a representative for administrators, school boards, superintendents, unions, parents, the civil rights community, English learners and disabled students.

In effect, compliance with the terms of the waiver will require agreement from factions that routinely disagree with each other to sign off on academic progress.

An oversight panel was not included in earlier versions of the waiver request. It was added after multiple revisions as a way to discourage dissent and win support from groups that might otherwise have objected to protocols of the wavier.

“We welcome this oversight board because we want to be very transparent,” said Long Beach Supt. Chris Steinhaus. “We put the oversight committee under the Brown Act so the work of the panel will be open to the public.”

The eight districts from California Office to Reform Education (CORE) include Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Sanger and Santa Ana Unified School Districts. Altogether, they represent over 1 million students.

The waiver is being granted only for one school year, and no other district can join the eight in that span. After reviewing the first-year results, Department officials will decide whether to renew it for 2014-2015.

The education department will give the participating districts more flexibility and accountability in how they measure student performance and raise academic performance at the district level, as well as more realistic goals for students. This is the first time the Department has granted a waiver to a group of districts.

Duncan said no other district or group of districts have applied for a waiver, nor does he expect any other No Child Left Behind waivers to be granted to districts.

“Our strong preference is to work with states because it makes more sense and is much easier to manage,” said Duncan. “But this was a unique situation. We didn’t have an application from a state but this waiver affects so many children.”

*An earlier version said the panel included nine members.

Previous posts: ‘No Child’ Waiver OKd for LA Unified, 7 Other CA School Districts, Update: Federal Review “Going In the Right Direction” for LAUSD, Final Decision Close on CORE’s ‘No Child’ Waiver Request, Teachers Unions Oppose NCLB Waiver That the ‘CA 9′ Want

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