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NEA Asks Education Department for Regulatory Relief

The Obama administration has said it wants lawmakers to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education next year, but with a new Congress coming in, it's tough to tell whether or not that will actually happen.

So now a bunch of education organizations, including the American Association of School Administrators and the National School Boards Association, are asking the U.S. Department of Education for regulatory relief from parts of the No Child Left Behind Act (the current version of ESEA) so that schools don't have to wait until Congress renews the law to get some of the changes they're looking for.

The nation's largest union, the National Education Association, is also part of the push. The union sent a letter Nov. 15 to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan asking him for flexibility in some key areas.

The wish list is long—and goes deep into the weeds of the law. It includes:

*Leeway for districts on the highly qualified teacher part of the law. The NEA argues that provision can be tough on small, rural districts. And the union contends that some special education teachers may need four or five certifications to meet the highly qualified benchmark, as its written now.

*Changes to adequate yearly progress, or AYP, the yardstick at the heart of the law, which requires schools to test students in grades three through eight and once in high school. Schools that don't meet achievement targets for all students, or for those in a particular subgroup (like students in special education) are subject to a cascade of sanctions. The NEA wants schools that miss achievement targets by just one subgroup (say, English-language learners) to focus interventions just on that particular group, not the whole school.

*Letting districts be able to use multiple measures to get credit towards AYP. Other measure could include district tests, the percentage of students taking advanced classes, and student attendance rates (right now, AYP is mostly calculated by those state reading and math tests). This was a major bone of contention when Congress took a stab at rewriting the law, back in 2007.

*Providing more flexibility for schools testing students in special education, and English-language learners (for instance, letting ELLs test scores count for their school's AYP calculation after the student has been in the country for three years, instead of just one).

*Giving states more flexibility to design their growth models, which track individual student progress over time. Growth models would have to go through state peer review and get the thumbs-up from a group of experts, such as the American Psychological Association, or the National Council on Measurement in Education. The department already has a growth model pilot project going.

UPDATE:The New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington that tracks education spending and policy, posted this analysis of the growth model proposal.

*Changes to the tutoring provision in the law, including letting districts target tutoring services to students in subgroups that aren't meeting achievement targets (instead of all those in the school), and letting school districts tutor their own students (like Chicago did, when Duncan was superintendent). The union also wants districts to be able to keep leftover money that has to be set aside for tutoring purposes, instead of returning it to the feds.

*Revamping graduation rate calculations so that schools can get credit for helping "late graduators" not just those who finish high school in four or five years.

*Letting all schools that are using one of the four turnaround models spelled out in the regulations for the School Improvement Grants hit the reset button on their AYP timeline, not just those using the turnaround model (which requires removing at least half the staff) or the restart model (in which schools are turned over to a charter management organization or other outside operator).

So what do you think of the NEA's list of asks?

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