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No Surprise: State Quietly Confirms That Feds Have Rejected California’s Proposed NCLB Waiver Proposal

January 10, 2013

It’s old news by now – but since the quiet announcement on December 21 was issued at a time when it would attract as little attention as possible (coming on a Friday as school districts up and down California were starting their winter break), a brief, if belated, news item is in order, since some educators may have been on their way to a family gathering and missed the announcement:

On Friday, Dec. 21, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and State Board of Education President Michael Kirst sent a two-page letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators, informing them that the federal Department of Education was “prepared to deny” California’s request for a waiver some of the accountability provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind act, which was signed in 2001 by President George W. Bush.

The federal Department of Education had offered California a waiver option back in September 2011, but the federal offer got a frosty reception in Sacramento. “Following an extensive analysis of the current law and potential costs, benefits and consequences of seeking such a waiver, we determined that California could not met the waiver conditions within the required timeline or in the current California fiscal and policy environment,” Torlakson and Kirst wrote in their Dec. 21 letter, which also referred to “the unrealistic expectations” of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Instead, California submitted what was described as a state-defined waiver proposal to the federal Department of Education in June 2012.

However, as Summer 2012 led into the hurly-burly of the fall Presidential campaign, federal Secretary of Education Arne Duncan remained as silent as The Sphinx regarding California’s state-defined waiver proposal. Instead, the federal Department of Education posted press release after press release announcing new batches of states that had accepted the federal government’s NCLB waiver proposals. This didn’t auger well for California’s proposal, and on Dec. 21, Torlakson and Kirst acknowledged what many education stakeholders in California had already come to expect: that “recent conversations with Department of Education staff indicate (the department) is prepared to deny our (waiver) request.”

The Dec. 21 letter goes on to recount how California adopted the state-designed Academic Performance Index in 1999 (two years before No Child Left Behind), and note that California has adopted the Common Core State Standards, among other accountability-related actions.

Torlakson and Kirst continued to assert that California’s approach is better than what the federal government proposed. “Taken together, these (state) initiatives will provide California the opportunity to redesign the system of school accountability to ensure that it is more meaningful and more inclusive than the current federal accountability system,” Torlakson and Kirst wrote. “While we await direction from the federal Department of Education on new requirements for federal accountability, California will continue to use the Academic Performance Index as the key indicator in determining whether a school or local education agency has made adequate academic progress.”

Source:  California Department of Education, EdBrief staff.