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Advocacy Groups Urge Arne Duncan to Get Tough on NCLB Waivers

Thirteen education advocacy groups, including Democrats for Education Reform, StudentsFirst, and the National Council of La Raza, want U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to make the waiver renewal process far more rigorous.

In a letter sent to the Education Department today, these groups express deep concerns about waiver implementation, from how graduation rates are factored into state accountability systems to how subgroups of at-risk students are being helped.

"It is crucial that the department uphold its responsibility to monitor waiver implementation and determine whether states and districts are adequately serving the students who are the intended beneficiaries of ESEA's policies; i.e., students of color, students from low-income families, English-language learners, and students with disabilities," the letter reads.

It is important to note that the department has already published its rules for states that want to renew their waivers. However, this letter spells out exactly what the groups care most about in the renewal process, and offers a warning of the royal fuss they will put up if the department doesn't heed their advice.

The groups want:

  • Evidence, whether it be student achievement or some other data, justifying why states should get more time to implement their waiver plans;
  • A closer analysis of "super subgroups" and if they are really necessary to get around the whole small-N-size issue;
  • Increased accountability around graduation rates. These groups want states using an extended-year graduation rate (such as a 5- or 6-year rate) to have more ambitious goals. And they want to put a stop to states that use GEDs as a part of graduation rates. (Louisiana gives a very small amount of credit to schools that award GEDs as an incentive for schools to keep working with kids who otherwise would completely drop out.);
  • States to spell out how they are moving away from the so-called 2-percent rule for testing students with disabilities;
  • States to annually refresh their list of "focus" and "priority schools," rather than set their own timeline for doing so;
  • Answers on exactly how each state's A-F or similar grading system is working;
  • Public transparency on any data analysis the department uses to inform its renewal decisions. (This is something Politics K-12 agrees with.); and,
  • Stakeholder involvement in each state that's pursuing a waiver extension.

UPDATED (11:30 A.M.): Earlier this month, the Education Trust sent a letter outlining similar concerns, while being especially critical of how vague the department's renewal guidelines for states are.

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