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Final Decision Close on CORE’s ‘No Child’ Waiver Request

Brianna Sacks | July 22, 2013

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Screen-shot-2013-05-08-at-10.09.34-AMAfter days of intense discussions with U.S. Department of Education officials last week, representatives from nine California school districts, a coalition known as CORE, now say they will know by early August if their waiver request will be granted. An updated application will be presented on Wednesday, reflecting changes outlined by discussions in Washington last week.

Rick Miller, executive director of the Coalition Office to Reform Education (CORE), which includes LAUSD, said the conversations so far have been positive, productive — and extensive.

“There was ongoing feedback on changes we needed to make so we did those while we were there and then would reconvene,” Miller said.

LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy and other CORE officials traveled to Washington for talks so the waiver could be ready before the start of the upcoming school year. According to a top CORE source, the districts expect a final decision by August 8.

While Miller did not confirm the date, he said he “remained cautiously optimistic that they could get it done by August.”

The final application will be evaluated by Department of Education officials prior to a final decision from Secretary Arne Duncan. Duncan did not attend any of the CORE meetings, Miller said.

“We have to make more changes, and we keep narrowing down their level of concerns and rewrite the waiver as they raise questions about parts like teacher evaluations and Common Core,” Miller said.

EdSource reported that Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson characterized the status of the waiver as “closer but not done.”

“If there was not a chance of approval,” he told EdSource, high-ranking Department of Education administrators “would not have wasted their time or our time.”

Though the trip was positive overall, the districts heard concerns from federal officials regarding the coalition’s ambitions around Common Core, particularly for English learners and special education students.

“There was definitely pushback,” said Miller. “They wanted to make sure we had done a good enough job documenting our plan for these students, so now we are in the process of doing that more thoroughly.”

Districts across the state have already been working on phasing in new Common Core standards, one of the requirements for the waiver.

After California’s waiver request 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 most of the states and the District of Columbia.

The NCLB law applies strict sanctions if certain educational goals are not met by 2014, like limitations on Title I funding for low-income students and federal intervention in low-performing schools.

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, as well as teachers unions that argue they were not consulted in constructing CORE’s academic accountability system, known as the School Quality Improvement Index.

The CORE districts pulled ideas from districts in Ontario, Canada and Massachusetts in creating their own school improvement and accountability model. Linking teacher improvement to student test scores is included in their plan, a hotly-contested method that was at the heart of disagreements with past California No Child waiver applications.

Previous posts: CA Districts in DC for Final ‘No Child’ Pitch; Analysis: Politics Could Affect LAUSD Waiver Approval; Teachers Unions Oppose NCLB Waiver That the ‘CA 9′ Want

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