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Oklahoma Wants Its NCLB Waiver Back, Right Now

Oklahoma is applying for an immediate re-instatement of its waiver from the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act, said Supt. Janet Barresi, a Republican, in a statement today.

The Sooner State, which lost its waiver in August, stands a very good chance of getting the flexibility back—it's just a question of whether that can happen this school year, or whether Oklahoma must wait until the 2015-16 academic year.

Some background: Oklahoma lost its waiver after the state ditched the Common Core State Standards, and put its old standards back in place. States that want waivers from the mandates of the NCLB law have two options: They can either a) adopt common core, as most states have done, or b) use or develop their own standards.

If the Sooner State goes with Option B, post-secondary institutions in the state must certify that the standards are rigorous enough to prepare students for college or the workforce. Oklahoma's post-secondary institutions hadn't given the state's standards the all-clear by the start of this school year, so the state lost its flexibility. But just last week, the board of regents agreed that the standards will get students ready for higher education. So now, Oklahoma is in a good position to get its flexibility back.

The question of timing is important, because if Oklahoma has to stick with NCLB for the rest of the schol year, the state has some work to do.

The state department of education hasn't yet told schools where they fall on the NCLB law's timetable of sanctions, which require schools that don't make adequate yearly progress to put in place interventions including school choice, free tutoring, and more serious governance changes. Plus, schools in the Sooner State that don't meet achievement targets must send letters to parents notifying them of their school's status.

So can Oklahoma switch back to NCLB mid-year? Maybe. As Anne Hyslop, a senior analyst at Bellwether Education Partners pointed out to me, there are at least three other states—Louisiana, New Jersey, and New Mexico—that haven't yet gotten the all-clear from the feds on their waiver extensions. And plenty of states got their extensions only recently. So it's not like every state started the school year knowing their waiver status. (Or even knows it now.)

That means it might not be hard for Oklahoma to argue that it should be able to go back to being a waiver state.

Of course, Hyslop also noted, in some respects, Oklahoma schools might actually be better off if the state waits until next year to get the waiver back. Because the Sooner state lost its waiver so close to the start of the school year, schools in Oklahoma that don't meet achievement targets don't have to comply with what's arguably the toughest part of NCLB—setting aside 20 percent of their Title I funding for school choice and free tutoring. Getting the waiver back won't change anything in that respect.

And, if the state doesn't get its waiver back, schools also don't have to comply with the waiver's requirements for low-performing schools (known as "focus" and "priority" schools.)

So if the waiver doesn't kick back in until 2015-16, "essentially Oklahoma has a year off from most meaningful accountability," Hyslop said.

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