The U.S. Department of Education is giving serious consideration to offering a special, district-level waiver from the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act to just a handful of districts in California.
So far, 34 states and the District of Columbia have been approved for waivers that allow them to get out from under key mandates of the NCLB law in exchange for embracing department priorities, such as measuring teacher effectiveness based in part on student outcomes.
But the Golden State isn't one of them. The state didn't think every aspect of the department's waiver parameters (especially when it comes to teacher quality) would work for California. So, the state chief, Tom Torlakson, and Mike Kirst, the school board president, submitted their own, California-specific waiver. And it was shot down.
But eight districts, including Los Angels Unified, are still interested. In fact, they think they can create a waiver that's as good—or better—than many that have already been approved, Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy told my colleague, Lesli Maxwell, of District Dossier fame.
The districts, which represent over a million students combined, are all part of the California Office to Reform Education. They also include Long Beach, Fresno, Sacramento, San Francisco, Oakland, along with Sanger Unified and Clovis Unified, two districts near Fresno in the San Joaquin Valley. Way more in Lesli's excellent blog post.
The districts haven't put forward their plan just yet. But it sounds like the feds are going to give their request a very careful look.
"We're exploring the possibility," a department official said. The official said one advantage of such a tailored waiver is the number of students covered. "The benefits of tailoring something to California might be worth the headache of tailoring something for them," the official said.
Headache is right. If the departments grants a waiver to just a handful of districts in only one state, there could be significant political blowback. First off, it's hard to imagine other districts in California being super-thrilled about getting stuck with NCLB as it, while others get a break.
And I would expect that districts in other states that haven't been granted waivers yet (i.e. Texas, which also went its own way on a waiver request) would want the chance to get their own waivers, too. And could districts in states that already got waivers submit the same plan the CORE districts did and win approval?
Plus, it's no secret that many state chiefs aren't fans of district waivers—will they kick up a fuss if the California eight are approved for one? And what will lawmakers on Capitol Hill—who are likely to hold a hearing soon on the waivers—make of all this?
It sounds like the department is thinking through all these potential ramifications.
"We're looking into it," the official said of the waiver. "This is not an easy thing to do."