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California Districts Press Waiver Case With Arne Duncan

Four California superintendents seeking waivers from provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act came to Washington today to meet with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and make the case that their waiver proposal—which would cover 10 school districts in California—is worthy of approval. (Hat tip to EdSource, which first reported about the meeting).

U.S. Department of Education spokesman Daren Briscoe said the secretary and senior staff members met with the four superintendents—John Deasy of Los Angeles Unified, Michael Hanson of Fresno, Richard Carranza of San Francisco, and Christopher Steinhauser of Long Beach—to "talk about their agenda for improving their districts." Briscoe said the conversation was not limited to waivers, but did "include a discussion of their desire" to win approval for their proposal.

Briscoe said the superintendents had about a half-hour of face time with the education secretary.

Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia so far have been granted reprieves from some tenets of the NCLB law in exchange for meeting department priorities, such as redesigning teacher evaluations to include student outcomes. California's waiver proposal was rejected late last year in large measure because it ignored that key condition. After that, the group of districts, already working together on Common Core State Standards implementation, decided to strike out on their own.

The next deadline for states to apply for waivers is Feb. 28, and the 10 districts that make up the California Office to Reform Education, or CORE, are fine-tuning their application that would be the first designed to release local districts from NCLB mandates.

The Education Department has sent signals that it will take the group's waiver proposal seriously—especially since it would cover more than 1 million students—but regardless of how strong the plan may be, the politics of this could get dicey for Mr. Duncan, as my colleague Alyson Klein deftly explained a few weeks ago.

Briscoe said that while Duncan has made it clear that district-level waivers are worth considering, there would be many difficult issues to sort out around the department's capacity to oversee them, among other challenges.

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