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High School Equity Advocates Express Concerns About NCLB Waivers

The Obama administration's waivers from the mandates of the much-maligned No Child Left Behind Act have the potential to seriously shortchange poor and minority kids—and the U.S. Department of Education's process for holding state's feet to the fire on the promises they made in their applications hasn't been transparent, according to a letter and accompanying analysis sent by the Campaign for High School Equity to members of the U.S. House of Representatives that serve districts with high populations of poor and minority kids.

CHSE, a coalition of civil rights organizations interested in high school redesign as it relates to equity issues, is worried that the Obama administration's use of "super subgroups," which allow states to combine special populations of students (such as English-language learners and students in special education) for accountability purposes, will make it easier for states and schools to mask achievement gaps. 

And CHSE thinks that the A through F grading systems many states are using as part of the waivers also have the potential to give a pass to schools where most students do well, but where poor and minority students struggle. Other civil rights organizations and key members of Congress have expressed similar concerns.

What's more, CHSE is concerned about the Obama administration's process for monitoring the waivers. The administration, they say, hasn't done enough to engage the civil rights community. The monitoring reports on the department's website lack data and detail, and it's unclear just how or whether the department will blow the whistle on states that don't follow through on their promises, they contend.

CHSE thinks there's an opportunity to right the waiver course later this year, when the Obama administration announces its process for moving forward on waiver renewal. They're worried about what they see as recent reversals from the Education Department on key waiver policy, including the decision not to consider teacher distribution in the initial round of waiver extensions. CHSE wants lawmakers to keep a close eye on the renewal process, including asking for a briefing from department officials.

The letter went out a host of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including the co-chairs of the Congressional Native American caucus, Reps. Tom Cole, R-Okla., and Betty McCollum, D-Minn, as well as Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., the co-chair of the congressional progressive caucus. It also went to Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., and Danny Davis, as well as Del. Gregorio Sablan, a Democrat who represents the Northern Mariana Islands, and other lawmakers and staff. 

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