By Sean Cavanagh
New Mexico has been granted a waiver under the No Child Left Behind Act, federal officials announced today, less than a week after the state was the only first-round applicant for flexibility under the law to have been denied that request.
In one sense, the announcement making New Mexico the 11th state to receive a waiver should not come as a major surprise.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had said last week that New Mexico was "very, very close" to securing a waiver, at the time he announced that the other 10 had been given that flexibility. Duncan was guarded about which aspects of the state's plan needed work, but New Mexico officials evidently have met those standards.
Of the first 10 states, three—Florida, Georgia, and Oklahoma—were given waivers on a "conditional" basis, meaning the Obama administration is requiring them to meet certain standards before they're granted leeway under the decade-old federal law.
But New Mexico's waiver approval is not conditional, a U.S. Department of Education official tells Education Week.
The other states that have secured waivers so far are: Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Tennessee. The next deadline for states to apply for NCLB flexibility is Feb. 28, and federal officials have said they will accept other applications throughout the rest of the year.
Duncan, in a statement, emphasized that he expects state officials, including Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, to seek cooperation of teachers and lawmakers from both parties, in implementing the plan.
"Today, New Mexico joins the ranks of states leading the charge on education reform by protecting children, raising standards and holding themselves accountable," Duncan said. "As New Mexico implements these reforms, it is important that all stakeholders are at the table and their voices are heard. We encourage the governor and her team to work closely and in a bipartisan manner with the legislature, and to fully include educators, community, and tribal leaders and parents in the process of advancing these reforms."
New Mexico will move to an accountability system that "recognizes and rewards high-performing schools and those that are making significant gains, while targeting rigorous and comprehensive interventions for the lowest-performing schools," the Department of Education said.
Duncan has predicted that states obtaining waivers will hold more students accountable for academic gains than they do under the current version of NCLB—and department officials said they see the same benefits coming out of New Mexico's waiver plan.
New Mexico officials have estimated that their new accountabilty system "will include 175 more schools and 20,000 more students," than are currently counted under the NCLB law, according to federal officials.
[UPDATE (Feb. 16): Hanna Skandera, New Mexico's secretary-designate of education, attributed the state initially not being granted a waiver to federal officials' concerns about the state's slow pace in implementing the common-core standards, and to worries about its plans for working with schools that struggle academically.
"They wanted us to talk through with them, 'How are you going to work with schools on closing the achievement gap?'" Skandera said. Federal officials also wanted proof of a "plan of intervention for schools that have large achievement gaps."
Skandera also told Education Week that other states have more experience than New Mexico in implementing the policies promoted by the Obama administration through the waivers, and that the state is making progress in that area.
"We had a long way to go when we turned in our application," she said. "This was our first year in the reform trenches. ... This is a great day for the state of New Mexico."]