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‘No Child’ Waiver OKd for LA Unified, 7 Other CA School Districts*

Brianna Sacks | August 6, 2013

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U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan

The U.S. Department of Education today approved a long-awaited federal waiver that allows LA Unified and seven other California districts to replace No Child Left Behind accountability rules with their own school improvement system.

The waiver creates a unique 14-member oversight body to 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 as a mechanism to discourage dissent and win support from groups that might otherwise have objected to protocols of the wavier.

Secretary Arne Duncan called the body “unique” among the waivers granted by the Department.

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 will give 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.

Until now, 39 states and the District of Columbia have received waivers.

The new accountability system, known as the School Quality Improvement System, will also closely align with California’s new Local Control Funding Formula and the Common Core Standards.

The system will be fully in place by the 2015-16 school year. It measures school improvement by assessing graduation rates, suspension, expulsions and chronic absences; English learner improvement. It will also take into account surveys taken by parents, student and staff.

The No Child Left Behind law applies strict sanctions if certain educational goals are not met by 2014, such as limitations on Title I funding for low-income students and federal intervention in low-performing schools. The inability to meet the goals can also force a school to close.

The group’s waiver application has sparked controversy among other state superintendents, who see a district waiver as giving too much power to locally-run districts. Teacher unions have argued they were not consulted in deciding how to evaluate teachers.

Under the new system, educator and principal success will now be linked to student achievement, a hotly-contested method that was at the heart of disagreements with past California No Child waiver requests.

While each district will develop its own specifics and guidelines, each has to choose from two options that incorporate student growth as a significant factor when assessing teacher performance:

  • Student growth integrated through a “trigger” system. With this option, an evaluation will be conducted using multiple measures, not including student achievement. The results will be compared to student achievement results. Any misalignment between teacher/administrator professional practice and student performance will initiate a dialogue to identify why a discrepancy between scores exists, followed by district action in the interest of professional development of the teacher.
  • Student growth as a defined percentage. Student growth will represent a minimum of 20% of teacher and principal evaluation calculations. Student growth will be calculated using a growth model which will be developed by the CORE Board of Directors in the 2014-2015 school year. However, if a district currently uses or seeks to use another high quality student growth model, the district will have the opportunity to apply to the CORE Board for the option to use an alternative method, provided the district provides a strong research-based rationale.

CORE’s system also shrinks the number of students measured for subgroup performance from 100, which is California’s current law, to 20. By reducing the subgroup size across all participating districts, schools will be held accountable for reporting the progress of about 153,000 additional students who are mostly Latino, African American, English Learners, or students with disabilities.

CORE first submitted an application to the U.S. Department of Education in February with the hopes of getting it approved by the start of the 2013-14 school year. The group has been continuously going back and forth with D.C. officials, resubmitting the application multiple times after receiving feedback.

A few CORE representatives, including L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy, flew to Washington earlier this month to speed up the review.

*An earlier version said the panel included nine members.

Previous posts: 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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