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Unions Say CORE Waiver Creates 'Privatized Shadow' Education System

This week, the nine California districts that are applying for their own tailor-made No Child Left Behind waiver met with officials from the U.S. Department of Education to try to seal the deal. Time is of the essence because districts need to make important decisions about the 2013-14 school year—such as whether to contract with tutoring providers under the existing NCLB—that would be affected by a waiver.

How did the meetings go? Rick Miller, the executive director of the California Office to Reform Education (or CORE), told me: "We're still talking and working through technical areas in our request. ED staff has been clarifying comments and making suggestions for us to consider. Overall it's been quite helpful and productive."

No word yet on who exactly they met with at the federal department. (Miller wouldn't say.)

One of the biggest problems likely giving federal officials pause is the lack of support from the local teachers' unions, which wrote a highly critical letter to CORE officials.

The nine unions say they don't like NCLB, but like the CORE waiver plan even less. They say it allows CORE "to establish and operate a privatized 'shadow' system of education in California, making students susceptible to market exploitation and profiteering," according to the June 12 letter, which Sacramento teacher Larry Ferlazzo referenced on his personal blog yesterday (he also blogs for EdWeek). Sacramento is a CORE waiver district.

Specifically, the unions take issue with how the CORE waiver memorandum of understanding was signed by the nine district superintendents—but no other stakeholders, such as unions. They also don't like a mandated teacher-evaluation system they say is in conflict with their ideas on gauging effectiveness, and an incomplete plan for assessments that pays only "lip service" to accountability.

This is a problem for both CORE and federal officials, because implementation of new teacher-evaluation systems tied to student achievement is so important to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. It's a requirement to get a waiver, even as the department is allowing some wiggle room in its timeline for implementation.

What would the CORE waiver do? It would allow nine districts to create their own accountability system largely outside of the state of California's, in a more-direct relationship with the federal government. The districts have a plan in which they hold each other responsible for achievement and progress (and lack thereof), with an accountability system that includes multiple measures—not just test scores, but factors such as a school's climate.

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