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U.S. Department of Education Extends NCLB Waivers for Six States

Six states so far will get to keep their waivers from many of the mandates of the outdated No Child Left Behind Act through the end of the upcoming school year, the U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday. The states are: Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Nevada, South Dakota, and Virginia.

In order to keep their flexibilty—and control over a big portion of federal money for disadvantaged students—states were expected to address major concerns cited by the Education Department in monitoring reports, which gauged how waiver implementation is proceeding. The reports were released earlier this spring and based in part on site visits made earlier in the 2013-14 school year. More waiver extensions are expected to trickle out this summer. 

So far, 43 states and the District of Columbia have been granted waivers, including one, Washington state, that saw its flexibility revoked. Thirty-five states will see their waivers expire this summer, and 29 have submitted renewal requests so far. 

Unsurprisingly, the first six states that got the green light for extensions were among those with the most problem-free monitoring reports. Connecticut, for example, fell down only in the area of intervening in its lowest-performing schools (a common area of weakness in waiver implementation).

Several of these states, including Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, and South Dakota, got their extensions approved even though they are continuing to work with the Obama administration to hammer out changes to their teacher and principal evaluation systems. That's something the department has offered waiver states that have the authority to implement teacher evaluation systems that meet the federal parameters, but need to make changes in a few "targeted areas," including timelines. But staying on track with teacher evaluations, as Nevada and Virginia have, could make states eligible for a longer waiver renewal next spring. (More here.)

Some other things to note:

•Interestingly, none of the states receiving extensions this time around were among the dozen winners of the department's original Race to the Top competition. Those Race to the Top states got grants ranging from $75 million to $700 million to help implement many of the policies included in the waivers, such as teacher evaluations, turning around low-performing schools, and beefing up standards.(Full list of Race to the Top states here.)

•And, with the exception of Colorado, none of the states that got extensions Thursday were in the initial batch approved for NCLB flexibility and which had been implementing waivers the longest. (Full list here.)

At least one of the original waiver recipients, Florida, was seeking a significant change to accountability for English-language learners in its most recent extension request. (More in this great blog post from my colleague Lesli Maxwell, of Learning the Language fame.)

•What's more, North Carolina—both a waiver recipient and a Race to the Top winner—had a picture-perfect  monitoring report, meeting federal expectations in every area. One possible guess as to why the state may have been left out of this first round of extensions: Its legislature is contemplating bills that take aim at the common-core standards.

States didn't have to adopt the common core to get a waiver—they could have had their post-secondary institutions agree that their standards would get students ready for college and the workplace. But the North Carolina bills have put the state's standards at least somewhat in flux.

•Still, one of the states that got an extension Thursday—Virginia—was never on board with the common core. The Old Dominion got a waiver using homegrown standards that were given the seal of approval from its higher education institutions.  But every other state in this first batch of waiver extensions has stuck with common core and is a member of one of two federally funded consortia developing tests to go along with the standards. 

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