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NCLB Waivers Less Specific on Teacher Quality than Race to Top

For an agency that was so specific about what it wanted to see in the teacher-quality portions of the Race to the Top program, the U.S. Department of Education has put out guidance on how states can seek waivers from elements of the No Child Left Behind Act that's surprisingly general in the TQ arena.

Michele McNeil made this point over on Politics K-12, in which she deconstructs what the peer reviewers will be asked to look for as they judge the applications. But let's take a closer look at the teacher-quality pieces.

First, the plan calls for the "sufficient involvement" of teachers and principals in the development of the state's teacher evaluation guidelines. But that's all. It's pretty much up to the peer reviewers to decide what is and isn't sufficient. Contrast that to the MOUs that districts and union leaders were expected to sign under the Race to the Top program.

Second, the guidelines ask reviewers to comment on whether the plan will be used to "inform personnel decisions". Again, this is pretty vague stuff. Compare it again to the Race to the Top, which listed tenure, compensation, promotion, and dismissal, among other things. (And keep in mind that in plenty of the states likely to apply for waivers, there are no laws on the books specifically linking evaluations to those decisions.)

The guidance also doesn't ask reviewers to check to see whether states describe how they'll use the evaluation data to update efforts to ensure equal access to effective teachers. That was another key aspect of the Race to the Top, and one step further from the NCLB statute (which required it only with regard to qualified teachers).

The guidance gives the peer reviewers arguably more latitude than they had under RTTT while making it less certain what states' deliverables are supposed to be.

And perhaps that's OK: Clearly, this waiver process is meant to be a less prescriptive model, which will probably please a lot of different stakeholders who have been pressing for more flexibility. Nevertheless, it does open questions up about what this is all going to end up looking like in practice— that's likely to worry folks who feel that the waiver process is turning the clock back on federal accountability.

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