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NCLB and waivers, what is going on?

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 19, 2011 01:18 PM

Last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that states could apply for waivers from No Child Left Behind. What does this mean?

The law, which has yet to be reauthorized in Congress even though it expired in 2007, has long been controversial – especially its goal that all students would be proficient in math and reading by 2014. Schools that consistently failed to meet ever-escalating targets have been required to undertake drastic reform measures, including what we are now calling turnaround.

As the goals get higher, more and more schools are failing to meet them, even if large numbers of their students are reaching the proficiency levels.

While some states are announcing their intention to apply for the waivers, at least one, Washington state, is so opposed to the law itself that it said it won't apply because such a move would give the law more credibility. A piece in the New York Times explains the outright rebellion among states and how, as a prelude to the waiver announcement, Duncan allowed Montana to retroactively reduce its proficiency targets so that fewer schools would be labeled "failures."

Diehard supporters of NCLB say that the law was important because it focused on achievement gaps among racial and ethnic groups and focused the nation's attention on the need to adequately educate all students by "disaggregating the data." Many of the schools now objecting to being called "failing" are falling short among one or more demographic subgroups.

The law's skeptics point out that instead of raising standards, many states simply set low standards that more schools could meet, subverting the law's very purpose.

Waivers will be tied to states' agreement to adopt a certain set of reforms, which could set a very bad precedent, worries Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute. Duncan said he would lay out the conditions for waivers in September.

What will Pennsylvania do? How would any waiver affect Philadelphia schools, more than half of which have at some point come under NCLB sanctions? More to the point, will Congress ever reform or replace NCLB?

No answers to those questions yet.

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Comments (7)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 18, 2011 3:15 pm

NCLB is a joke as is Duncan and Obama too. Ackerman and Archie need to go.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 18, 2011 6:41 pm

Unless this law is 'Managed," 95% of all schools will be called failing.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 18, 2011 8:17 pm

One of the many consequences of NCLB is the "drama" at the principals meeting today. Schools which focus on making AYP, get praise. Principals are "called to the front" and recognized. Schools which may miss one target do not get recognized.

What do you think it takes in some schools to "make" AYP? Students are "forced" to attend PSSA prep classes, sit in pep rallies, and compete for prizes. We already know there is cheating or at least gaming the test (looking at tests before they are administered, going over the questions with students, helping students with questions/reading, ... to changing answers).

When a school does nothing more than focus on "the test," students are denied an opportunity to participate in learning. They are a number, a score. Schools are told "to do whatever it takes" to raise scores, not educate children. We are told to "teach anchor skills" which means teach to the test.

How is "freezing" the scores going to change anything?

Submitted by Philly parent/teacher/citizen (not verified) on August 19, 2011 9:57 am


Submitted by tom-104 on August 19, 2011 10:23 pm

The idea of holding pep rallies and giving prizes to improve test scores is so absurd. It shows how low our educational standards have fallen. It tells the students the whole problem is that they must try harder like this is a football game. The students and teachers are then blamed if they fail and are told they are not motivated and trying hard enough.

Getting the correct answers on a multiple choice bubble test is not preparing students for life, it's preparing them to take more tests. Just being able to regurgitate empirical facts does not mean a student has mastered the material. Where is the critical thinking? Where is the encouragement of curiosity and passion for learning in any of this?

To top it off, schools that are in the wrong zip code are then penalized when they have low scores. Poverty is the determining factor in whether a school has low test scores. This is not an excuse, it is a diagnosis. Testing should be done to find where the problems are and then those problems addressed. Instead, we do the opposite, schools with low scores are penalized in a punitive way as if they have committed a crime.

Get rid of NCLB and Race to the Top and let teachers teach!

Many of these ideas were promoted at the Save Our Schools march on July 30th. Click here to see the important speeches many of which focused on NCLB:

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 21, 2011 4:23 pm

I agree--Never have I been so embarrassed to "Teach" this scripted nonsense. Just reading off a page over and over and----------Yikes !!! The kids also know how silly it is. I hope when Ackerman leaves, this nonsense goes with her. In any case, Obama has been a disappointment but if not he, then who?? The Tea Party crowd are much worse and even dangerous in my mind. Obama reminds me of Nutter in the sense that their competition is far worse than they and they know that. NCLB, AYP, Race to the Top are all just exercise in futility, at least in Urban areas where the kids are delayed due to incredible environmental issues, none of which is their fault. Time will cure this but it won't be soon. Blaming teachers and fools like Ackerman won't help either. As people of color gain more political power, things will get better, not until.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 21, 2011 7:10 pm

The deal is that Obama wants to get reelected, and this is his way of placating teachers who are not thrilled with his educational objectives.

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