Thursday, February 9, 2012

How is LFT responding to Superintendent of Education John White’s request for waivers of No Child Left Behind Act waivers?

With the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind) stalled in Congress, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced last fall that his department will offer waivers of some provisions of the Act. In exchange for flexibility, states are required to implement education reforms. Thus far, 10 states have applied for and received waivers of NCLB requirements.

This week, Superintendent of Education John White unveiled a PowerPoint presentation that broadly outlines the Louisiana Department of Education’s wish list. His department is already asking stakeholders to sign statements of support for the request.

But White has not released the state’s official application for waivers, even though the deadline for public comments on the document is February 16.

Based on the scant information in the PowerPoint presentation, LFT has concerns about the direction White wants to take in asking for waivers of federal education requirements.

For starters, the presentation calls for “merit-based certification, compensation, tenure and retention.” That sounds good, but what does it mean? In conversation, White has questioned even the value of a college major in a subject area for teachers.

His presentation, which features the liberal use of the word “empower,” calls for parental choice including “early childhood, traditional public, charter, private, virtual, industry, university.” Is the superintendent asking the U.S. Department of Education to approve a voucher scheme? The details have yet to be released.

The slide show also asks for “Freedom from retrograde labor rules and burdensome funding restrictions,” without defining retrograde labor rules or identifying burdensome funding restrictions.

The superintendent says he wants to “eliminate school and district improvement plans,” but favors “enhancing accountability.” These are broad strokes that beg for explanation.

White says that he would like to strip School Performance Score criteria down to bare bones. Kindergarten through eighth grade schools would be judged solely on iLEAP and LEAP scores; high school scores would be based on ACT performance (50%) and the cohort graduation rate (50%).

Are these criteria supported by research and data? Who will pay for all the ACT tests that must be administered? Isn’t there room for multiple indicators of school performance, such as disciplinary actions, attendance levels and other elements of a Learning Environment Index?

The presentation raises many questions about issues such as redefining subgroups, rewards and interventions, classifying schools based on performance, etc.

Based on the information available, Superintendent White’s plan is not ready for prime time, and time is growing short. Public comment on the as-yet unpublished draft is expected by February 16.

BESE board approval of the “revised accountability concepts and policies” is expected to be complete by next summer, with final approval by August, with full implementation scheduled for the 2012-13 academic year.
Here is what the U.S. Department of Education has to say about applying for waivers:

To get flexibility from NCLB, states must adopt and have a plan to
implement college and career-ready standards. They must also create
comprehensive systems of teacher and principal development, evaluation and
support that include factors beyond test scores, such as principal observation,
peer review, student work, or parent and student feedback.

States receiving waivers no longer have to meet 2014 targets set by
NCLB but they must set new performance targets for improving student achievement
and closing achievement gaps.
They also must have accountability systems that
recognize and reward high-performing schools and those that are making
significant gains, while targeting rigorous and comprehensive interventions for
the lowest-performing schools.

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