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Is the CORE Waiver in Trouble? Sacramento Bails on NCLB Flexibility

In a joint press conference today, the Sacramento school district and its teachers' union announced they are withdrawing from a first-of-its-kind No Child Left Behind Act waiver the U.S. Department of Education granted less than a year ago.

In August, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan surprised many education policy advocates, and sparked some outrage, when he bypassed the State of California and granted the so-called CORE waiver to eight districts in the state. Essentially, Duncan allowed these districts, which also include Los Angeles and Long Beach, to set up their own accountability system outside of the state of California's—and largely police themselves through their own board of directors. (CORE stands for California Office to Reform Education.)

In a memo to staff today, interim Superintendent Sara Noguchi said, "It has become clear that [the district's] participation in the waiver from No Child Left Behind has impeded progress towards working more collaboratively to move our schools and classrooms forward." She referred to the waiver as a distraction.

In a statement to the press, she said that the withdrawal does not mark an endorsement for NCLB, which is still in effect in California since it was unable to obtain a federal waiver. She said, "While we will once again be subject to all rules and regulations of NCLB, we will continue to evaluate how we can best support our students within the framework of the law and continue to advocate for more systemic changes to its top-down approach to accountability."

The waiver was causing huge problems between the district and the union. Teachers were highly critical of the process (which they viewed as not collaborative) that former superintendent Jonathan Raymond used to join the CORE consortium in the first place. Teachers were particularly upset about plans to tie teacher evaluations to test scores.

In response to the district's decision, the Sacramento teachers' association today celebrated the "death" of the CORE waiver. "While the waiver did bring some flexibility in how the district could spend supplemental education service funds, the cost of the waiver and some of the requirements established within the application were detrimental to our schools and the students they serve," union President Nikki Milevsky said in a statement. "The way the application process was handled by those involved was unacceptable to our members and the community..."

CORE spokeswoman Hilary McLean said she expects the remaining seven districts to stick with the waiver. "Sacramento City Unified's decision reflects their local context—not a trend," she said.

But there is also a big rift in Fresno between the teachers' union and the district over the waiver, which culminated in a protest by nearly 500 teachers at a local school board meeting last month.

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