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California Districts Seek to Renew NCLB Waiver

By guest blogger Lesli Maxwell. Crossposted from District Dossier.

The group of California school districts that won a first-of-its-kind waiver from some requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act last year has asked the U.S. Department of Education to extend the reprieve beyond the current school year. And importantly, the districts are asking to fully implement their teacher evaluation system by the 2016-17 school year, according to Hilary McLean, a spokeswoman for the CORE districts. That would be outside the timeline that the department has greenlighted for any other state, with the exception of Illinois, whose waiver was hung up on the issue for over a year. 

CORE—which stands for the California Office to Reform Education—officially submitted its extension request to federal education officials today, which, if approved, would keep the coalition of districts operating under an accountability system that is entirely different from that of the state of California. The seven districts in the group asking for the extension are Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Ana, and Sanger.

Sacramento's school district—an original participant in the waiver—recently backed out after ongoing friction between the district's administration and the local teachers' union over the terms of the waiver had become a "distraction." Chiefly, the union objected to the waiver's requirement that required teacher evaluations to be tied to student test scores. The Fresno teachers' union has raised similar objections and has been urging district leaders there not to stick with the waiver.

In its request for an extension, CORE is asking the Education Department to give districts an extra year to reach full implmentation of the new teacher-evaluation system. That would mean 2016-17, rather than 2015-16. 

The extension request also calls for delaying other parts of the new accountability system, some of which is connected to the fact that California ditched its state content tests in math and English/language arts this year in favor of offering only common-core aligned field tests that do not produce any usable data for accountability purposes. 

In approving the waiver, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan allowed the districts to create their own accountability system and largely police themselves through CORE's own board of directors. That move set off a firestorm of criticism both inside and outside California.

CORE's accountability system—known as the School Quality Improvement System—measures a number of factors in evaluating the progress of schools and students, including nonacademic factors such as school culture and how well schools are building students' social-emotional skills.

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