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State seeks No Child Left Behind waivers
Washington State Superintendent Randy Dorn recently announced that he will seek waivers for the state from the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act, in an attempt to provide some relief from what many consider to be the unrealistic expectations of former president George W. Bush's program.
"My office looked at hundreds of comments from the public," Dorn said. "I talked to many people in districts and schools and worked closely with the State Board of Education on the application. Schools need to be relieved from the burden of No Child Left Behind and focus their time and energy on helping our students succeed."
According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), the waivers would allow the state to be relieved of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements. As the rules now sit, there is a progression of consequences for schools and districts that fail to meet AYP goals, primarily related to increasing success rates on state tests.
For 2011, nearly two out of three schools in the state failed to meet the stiff AYP goals.
Another effect of the waivers would be to unburden schools classified as Title I. The Title I designation means a school has a higher percentage of lower-income students than the average, and receives federal funding because of that circumstance. One of the punitive measures of NCLB is to force Title I schools to set aside 20 percent of their federal funding "for supplemental educational services" and for "students who might request school choice." Failing schools are put through a five-step program, in which that set-aside requirement kicks in, after failing to meet AYP for two or more consecutive years.
Federal Way connection
According to OSPI statistics, 27 of the 40 schools in Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) were unable to meet AYP for 2010-11. Of the 27 schools unable to meet AYP, 14 are Title I schools. Six FWPS schools — Decatur High School, Federal Way High School, Kilo Middle School, Thomas Jefferson High School and Totem Middle School — are also at step five of the aforementioned disciplinary program.
At step five under NCLB rules, schools must undergo "restructuring," and choose certain recommendations such as replacing "all or most relevant staff," contract with an outside entity to operate the school, undergo a state takeover of the school if the state agrees to do so, or "undertake any other major restructuring."
Federal Way Superintendent Rob Neu said the district is aware of the waiver application, but is staying neutral for now in terms of what it might mean for Federal Way students and families.
"Washington state is in the early stages of the waiver application process," he said. "Until we're able to fully analyze the proposal, it's premature to speculate whether it will help."
The waivers would relieve Title I schools of the aforementioned set-aside requirement and from falling under some of the more onerous rules already described, according to Dorn's office.
If granted, Dorn said he would focus the state's education resources on closing the achievement gap — the term used to describe the discrepancy in academic achievement between various groups of students. Along with the shift in focus would come a timeline for success. OSPI and Dorn say the goal would be to close the achievement gap statewide by half by the year 2017.
"By looking at the achievement gap, our plan focuses on the students most in need," Dorn said. "Our intent is for the 20 percent of set-aside money to get those students individualized help."
Neu said that with Dorn's proposed shift to focus on the achievement gap, Federal Way schools will be in a strong position within that particular framework.
"I can't help but think that Federal Way is really well positioned to fulfill our end of those obligations," he said. "Our biggest policies, Academic Acceleration and Standards Based Education, where we're looking at excellence and equity, I think means we're really well positioned."
There are four requirements for states to be eligible for waivers, all of which Dorn and OSPI say the state has met. The failure of Congress in 2007 to reauthorize NCLB has left these unreasonable rules in place, Dorn said. The state's superintendent feels the nation's lawmakers need to work together to make the burden less onerous for all schools and districts across the country.
"Congress really needs to do its job and rewrite No Child Left Behind," he said. "The law raised a lot of awareness that all students need to be proficient in math and reading. Unfortunately, it also punished schools and districts unfairly, and it set unrealistic goals that no school or district can meet."
Federal Way's superintendent also expressed his frustration with Congress' ability to reauthorize and rework NCLB in 2007.
"This was supped to be rewritten in 2007," Neu said. "It's unfortunate that we're having to talk about waivers today, when Congress was supposed to rewrite it five years ago."
Dorn's announcement came in the wake of the announcement of the U.S. Department of Education granting waivers to 10 of 11 states that applied in recent years.
To find out more about the state's waiver request, visit www.k12.wa.us.