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NCLB Waiver Cheat Sheet: How to Win in the Second Round

With the clock ticking toward the Feb. 28 second-round deadline for states to apply for a waiver under No Child Left Behind, states are scrambling to glean insight from the first-round results so they can get their proposals in tip-top shape.

You can dig through the voluminous amount of documents that the Education Department posted online from each state, or read their cheat sheet for advice on how to make the outside peer reviewers, and federal officials, happy. (Thanks to the loyal Politics K-12 reader for flagging this document for us, which remains fairly hidden on the department's website. We always appreciate such tips!)

Here are the biggest flaws in state applications that peer reviewers had concerns about:

  • A lack of consultation with relevant stakeholders in creating the waiver proposal. The department requires that states "meaningfully" engage with teachers, unions, parents, and community organizations, and even modify their waiver proposals based on that input. In particular, peer reviewers found that many states did not actively engage with teachers and groups representing English learners and students with disabilities. Still, all states that applied for a first-round waiver (there were 11), except New Mexico, won a waiver.
  • Very, very, very weak plans for helping students with disabilities and English learners. The peer reviewers found most states offered weak professional development plans to help teachers prepare special education students and English learners for college- and career-ready standards. The peer reviewers found, for example, that many state plans only included professional development for special education teachers, and not all teachers who teach students with disabilities. In addition, many state plans proposed generic interventions for struggling schools and students, instead of targeted ones aimed at students with disabilities and ELLs. What's more, the peer reviewers cited "multiple weaknesses" in how states planned to evaluate teachers in those two areas. The weakness in ELL plans has already been detailed by Lesli Maxwell over at Learning the Language.
  • New grading systems were complex and difficult for average folks to understand. Politics K-12 wholeheartedly agrees with this one. The peer reviewers were concerned that the indexes, grades, or whatever a state called it included so many factors and calculations that parents and educators would be confused about what matters most in a grade and how it was calculated. The judges were particularly concerned that graduation rates were given the short shrift in these new grading systems.
  • Traditional NCLB subgroups were overlooked. This has been a big theme, and concern, as groups have pored over the waiver applications since many states are planning to combine smaller subgroups of at-risk students into one bigger "super subgroup." The peers were worried that one high-performing bunch in a super-subgroup could mask the low performance of another. The peers wanted to see more safeguards built into plans to ensure that doesn't happen.
  • Significant weaknesses in using annual achievement targets to drive incentives and interventions for schools that are not in the lowest-performing category. Apparently, many states overlooked that other schools besides the worst of the worst may need help, too. Peer reviewers wanted to see states include interventions for schools, for example, where one subgroup was really struggling.
  • Vague plans for developing and implementing teacher and principal evaluation systems. Many state plans weren't specific about how they would choose evaluation measures and how they would be applied uniformly across all school districts, and in non-tested grades and subjects.


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