Put Your Hands in the Air; Waiver Like You Just Don’t Care!
Our short, federal nightmare is over. Today, the USDE announced that Oklahoma could have its No Child Left Behind waiver back after all.
U.S. Department of Education restores Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind Flexibility Waiver for remainder of school year
OKLAHOMA CITY (Nov. 24) — The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) announced today it is reinstating Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Flexibility Waiver for the 2014-15 school year. Although the waiver had been pulled after state lawmakers repealed Common Core academic standards deemed college- and career-ready, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reconsidered that earlier decision after Oklahoma higher education officials determined the state’s existing academic standards were sufficient.
“On behalf of Oklahoma educators, parents, students, lawmakers and all Oklahomans invested in better schools, we are grateful for this decision to reinstate the state’s flexibility waiver,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi.
“The ramifications of losing the waiver would have been significant and with potentially disastrous consequences. Instead, Oklahoma now has an opportunity to build upon the innovations and successful reforms of recent years.”
On Aug. 28, the USDE told the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) that Oklahoma was losing the waiver that provides the state and school districts with relief from 13 federal regulations and flexibility in spending Title I funds. Federal officials indicated they were impressed by how many Oklahoma schools had improved under the waiver, but an obstacle remained. The USDE requires all states applying for waivers to use English language arts and mathematics standards aligned with college- and career-ready guidelines, and the Common Core repeal made that problematic.
Federal officials indicated at that time that the state could reapply for a waiver to take effect in the 2015-16 school year.
OSDE requested immediate reinstatement of the waiver, however, after the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education concluded Oct. 16 that existing Priority Academic Student Skills, or PASS, standards for English and math are college- and career-ready.
In addition to that development, OSDE pointed to significant progress made under its school improvement program, with 51 out of 175 Priority schools improving their letter grade this school year, and more than 100 Targeted Intervention schools raising their grade. Priority and Targeted Intervention schools are schools that need the most intensive help in raising student achievement.
In a letter today, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Deborah Delisle praised Oklahoma for education reforms made in an effort to strengthen rigor and improve academic performance.
“I am confident that Oklahoma will continue to implement the reforms described in its approved ESEA flexibility request and advance its efforts to hold schools and school districts accountable for the achievement of all students,” she wrote.
As state leaders look ahead to the spring of 2015 and the likelihood of requesting another NCLB Flexibility Waiver, Supt. Barresi said it is critical that Oklahoma remains committed to reforms that will spur academic achievement.
“While the USDE decision certainly allows districts and schools to breathe a little easier, this reinstatement cannot be misinterpreted as a concession to low expectations,” she said. “Oklahoma should forge ahead with creating stronger academic standards and shoring up a system of true accountability.”
The SDE’s press release didn’t mention this, but apparently, Arne Duncan signs all of his Christmas cards with Just Kidding instead of Best Wishes. Or perhaps this is Secretary Duncan’s version of pardoning a Turkey. Essentially, the last three months were like that season of Dallas that never really happened.
I haven’t had a lot of time to write lately, and today is no exception, but here are four quick thoughts on the announcement.
- Barresi couldn’t just let the announcement happen without taking more shots at everything associated with PASS. The first paragraph can best be described as a word salad – not the kind that people find appealing, but rather a USDA school lunch-approved word salad. I’ll translate: Even though the Legislature killed the awesome Common Core, costing us the waiver in the first place, the State Regents saved their bacon by determining that PASS was good enough. You know, I’m going to miss that rare combination of bitterness and insight here in a couple of months.
- Barresi lauds the SDE’s School Improvement efforts, maintaining the illusion that nothing of the sort was happening before her. As you can see here used to be able to see on the SDE’s website, schools received an API score (and subscores for reading and math and different student populations) from 2002 through 2011. Each year, they would also publish a list of schools not showing enough improvement. The last list is still posted. The historical API data is still hidden from view for no good reason, though. The catch is that schools moved back and forth, on and off the list, all the time. This did not just happen because of the Barresi administration or because of the A-F Report Cards. Reforms come and go. The people working with students make the difference.
- It’s somewhat surprising that the reinstatement happened this fast. I’m skeptical about the motivations. Could it be that the feds are finally attuned to the fact that nobody who actually knows anything about education believes in NCLB or the waivers? What does this mean for VAM, since we still have to have a quantitative measure of teacher effectiveness, under the rules of the waiver? Does Oklahoma’s action provide a blueprint for other states wanting to shed the Common Core?
- When will the SDE publish this year’s list for School Improvement? Under the waiver (I assume this hasn’t changed – the SDE hasn’t actually published the new waiver anywhere publicly) all D schools are on the Targeted Improvement list, and all the F schools are on the Priority That part’s easy. Then, using a formula almost as complicated as the one we’ve paid someone else to construct to calculate VAM, they determine which schools have landed on the Focus list. This seems like the kind of thing that will come out the day before Christmas Break, along with each district’s mid-term funding adjustment.
In all seriousness, the announcement is a welcome relief. I don’t know anybody in the state who would feel differently. Going back to the draconian NCLB regulations would have forced many Title I schools to cut staff positions – staff who work with students who struggle. For that, we are thankful.