Print this Article

Obama Announces NCLB Flexibility Plan for States

September 23, 2011

The White House announced a process on Friday that will allow states to get relief from provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – or No Child Left Behind (NCLB) – in exchange for what the White House described as “serious state-led efforts to close achievement gaps, promote rigorous accountability, and ensure that all students are on track to graduate college- and career-ready.”

States will be able to request flexibility from specific NCLB mandates, but only if they are transitioning students, teachers, and schools to a system aligned with college- and career-ready standards for all students, developing differentiated accountability systems, and undertaking reforms to support effective classroom instruction and school leadership.

“To help states, districts and schools that are ready to move forward with education reform, our administration will provide flexibility from the law in exchange for a real commitment to undertake change. The purpose is not to give states and districts a reprieve from accountability, but rather to unleash energy to improve our schools at the local level,” President Obama said.

Release of this package comes nearly a decade after NCLB became law, and four years after it was due to be rewritten by Congress. According to the White House statement, “NCLB shined light on achievement gaps and increased accountability for high-need students, but it also encouraged states to lower standards and narrow curriculum, focused on absolute test scores instead of student growth and gains, and created one-size-fits-all federal mandates.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, “We want to get out of the way and give states and districts flexibility to develop locally-tailored solutions to their educational challenges while protecting children and holding schools accountable for better preparing young people for college and careers.”

In recent months, many states have begun to move beyond NCLB’s provisions. Dozens of states have begun the process of adopting new college- and career-ready standards, as well as development of new assessments, and other programs in areas including teacher and principal evaluation and support, and turning around low-performing schools.
The ESEA flexibility package announced on Friday was developed with input from chief state school officers from 45 states, even as the more comprehensive reforms outlined in the President’s Blueprint for Reform await Congressional reauthorization of the ESEA.

This flexibility package was developed under the waiver authority explicitly granted to the U.S. Department of Education under the ESEA, and has been exercised under the previous Administration. The flexibility will begin to have an impact during the 2011-2012 school year and will have increasing impact in subsequent years.

ESEA flexibility focuses on supporting State and local reform efforts underway in three critical areas:

  1. Transitioning to college- and career-ready standards and assessments;
  2. Developing systems of differentiated recognition, accountability, and support; and
  3. Evaluating teacher and principal effectiveness and supporting improvement.

A state may request flexibility through waivers of several specific provisions of NCLB. Most notably:

  1. Flexibility Regarding the 2013–2014 Timeline for Achieving 100 Percent Proficiency: A State will no longer have to set targets that require all students to be proficient by 2014. Instead, a state will have flexibility to establish ambitious but achievable goals in reading/language arts and mathematics to support improvement efforts for all schools and all students.
  2. Flexibility Regarding District and School Improvement and Accountability Requirements: states, districts, and schools will receive relief from a system that over-identifies schools as “failing” and prescribes a “one size fits all” approach to interventions. Instead, states will have the flexibility to design a system that targets efforts at the schools and districts that are the lowest-performing and toward schools that have the largest achievement gaps, tailoring interventions to the unique needs of those schools and districts and their students. States will also have flexibility to recognize and reward both schools that are the highest-achieving and those whose students are making the most progress.
  3. Flexibility Related to the Use of Federal Education Funds: states, districts, and schools will gain increased flexibility to use several funding streams in ways they determine best meets their needs, and rural districts will have additional flexibility in using their funds. Funds to meet the needs of particular populations of disadvantaged students will be protected.
  4. To receive flexibility through these waivers of NCLB requirements, a state must develop a rigorous and comprehensive plan addressing the three critical areas that are designed to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps and increase equity, and improve the quality of instruction.
  5. Transitioning to College- and Career-Ready Standards and Assessments To request ESEA flexibility, a state must have already adopted college- and career-ready standards in reading/language arts and mathematics designed to raise the achievement of all students, including English Learners and students with disabilities. The State will then help its schools and districts transition to implementing those standards and will commit to administering statewide tests aligned with college- and career-readiness.
  6. Developing Systems of Differentiated Recognition, Accountability, and Support Under ESEA flexibility, a state will establish a differentiated recognition, accountability, and support system that gives credit for progress towards college- and career-readiness. The system each state develops will recognize and reward the highest-achieving schools that serve low-income students and those that show the greatest student progress as Reward Schools. For a state’s lowest–performing schools — Priority schools, generally, those in the bottom 5 percent — a district will implement rigorous interventions to turn the schools around. In an additional 10 percent of the state’s schools — Focus Schools, identified due to low graduation rates, large achievement gaps, or low student subgroup performance — the district will target strategies designed to focus on students with the greatest needs.
  7. Evaluating and Supporting Teacher and Principal Effectiveness: Each State that receives the ESEA flexibility will set basic guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation and support systems. The state and its districts will develop these systems with input from teachers and principals and will assess their performance based on multiple valid measures, including student progress over time and multiple measures of professional practice, and will use these systems to provide clear feedback to teachers on how to improve instruction.

In a background briefing on Thursday, senior administration officials indicated that states which have already begun adopting the required programs can file for the new flexibility program in mid-November, with waivers to be issued in 2012. States that need more time will be able to apply in January.

Senior administration officials indicated that about $1 billion in money that is currently part of NCLB enforcement will become more flexible as a result.

For a fact sheet on the details of the flexibility announcement click HERE.

Source:  White House Press Office, EdBrief staff.