With 11 states now freed from some parts of the No Child Left Behind Act, and another round of states readying their waiver applications, the U.S. Department of Education has turned to perhaps the most important part of the process: holding states to their new accountability promises.
To that end, the department is beginning to outline what it expects of states that have won this flexibility, issuing implementation letters that vary slightly by state and convey some important messages.
- Subgroup accountability, a big point of contention among states, the feds, and civil rights' groups, will be a chief focus of monitoring for the department. In the implementation letters to most states, the department says it will make sure the states are providing "transparency" around subgroup performance—especially in states that are using a "super-subgroup." It's also watching how Tennessee approves new "annual measurable objectives" (or AMOs), and how New Jersey and Georgia are implementing their new, not-yet-final grading systems.
- Federal monitoring will begin before the start of the 2012-13 school year.
- States can request changes in their waiver plans. Just as in Race to the Top, the department plans to have a formal amendment process for states. These amendments will be important to watch, as we've seen Race to the Top states use that process to delay implementation and scale back promises.
- While states are no longer required to offer tutoring and choice as under NCLB, the department makes clear that per another section of the law that hasn't been waived, school districts have to allow students to stay in a choice school through that school's highest grade. States are encouraged (though not required—an important distinction) to still provide transportation to those schools.
- The department wants states to continue to consult with stakeholders, namely teachers' unions, as they implement their plans. Collaboration was a make-or-break part of the original application process. But how the department will enforce this now that the flexibility is already out of the barn is a whole 'nother matter.
- The department outlines its authority to terminate a waiver if a state, or a "significant number" of its school districts, fail to implement the plan or file required reports.