Long Beach Unified School District + Seven Other CA School Districts Get Obama Admin Approval To Avoid Meeting Some Academic Req'ts (Test Scores) For Some Schools Under "No Child Left Behind" Act
U.S. Dept. of Education waiver lets under-performing LBUSD schools meet standards approved by administrators based in part on attendance and student and parent surveys
(Aug. 7, 2013, 10:50 a.m., updated Aug. 8 with State Sup't statement) -- The Obama administration, acting through the U.S. Dept. of Education, on Aug. 6 granted a waiver letting the Long Beach Unified School District with seven other CA school districts avoid meeting certain academic performance requirements (test scores) under the federal "No Child Left Behind Act," and instead include different standards for some schools, including attendance and parent/student surveys, favored by the districts' administrators.
For independent coverage of the action, which has drawn support and criticism, see this story on www.Edweek.org.
The waiver was sought by eight CA school districts -- Los Angeles, Long Beach, Fresno, Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Ana and Sanger (a ninth district, Clovis, dropped out) -- collectively charged with educating over one million students. The districts pursued the waiver by forming what they called the "California Office to Reform Education" [which isn't a state government office but the term coined by the districts in collectively pursuing the waiver.] As www.edweek.org independently described the action:
"The first-of-its-kind waiver, good for one year, essentially allows the eight districts to set up their own accountability system outside of the state of California's and largely police themselves through their own board of directors. The districts known as CORE, for California Office to Reform Education, will operate under a new "school quality improvement index" that will be based 60 percent on academic factors such as test scores and graduation rates, 20 percent on social-emotional factors such as the absentee rate, and 20 percent on culture and climate factors such as student and parent surveys."
Roughly forty states to date have been granted relief from 2014 academic proficiency requirements under the federal "No Child Left Behind Act" (currently awaiting reauthorization and possible modification by Congress) but the waiver for LBUSD and the seven other CA school districts (collectively charged with educating over one million students) is believed to be the first granted on the basis sought by only some of a state's school districts.
Below is a salient portion of the districts' waiver request submitted to the U.S. Dept. of Education; LBREPORT.com provides a link to the full waiver request below:
...The CORE Waiver request is fundamentally based on a data-driven system for measuring student
outcomes -- with a laser-like focus on ensuring that all students graduate from high school college
and career ready. The School Quality Improvement Index is based on a thoughtful analysis of a
variety of student outcomes -- academic, social-emotional and measures of the culture and climate of
the school. Not only will the Gardner Center, CORE’s external data aggregator (in collaboration
with Participating LEAs) gather and analyze quantitative measures of academic achievement and
behavior (e.g., attendance), they will also gather mixed methods (quantitative and qualitative)
measures of satisfaction and suggestions for improvement from parents, faculty, staff and students.
...A significant part of the School Quality Improvement Index is based on student social-emotional
performance and on the culture and climate of the school. Factors such as attendance, disciplinary
actions, and perceptions of safety at school will be meaningful components of the school's metrics
for self-evaluation, peer coaching, and exiting Priority status and meeting AYP. These measures will
be meaningful elements in the overall accountability framework for all Priority schools...
[Source: Local Educational Agencies Request for Waivers under section 9401 of the Elementary and Secondary School Act of 1965, p. 122.]
To view the districts' full waiver request in pdf form, click here.
In a release (full text below), LBUSD Superintendent Chris Steinhauser stated, "This waiver provides flexibility to improve our efforts to prepare all students for college and careers. Like Governor Brown's recently approved funding formula for schools, this waiver returns much needed control and flexibility to the local level. As educators, we have sought such flexibility for years. Secretary Duncan's announcement represents a seismic shift in school accountability for us, replacing an unfair and punitive system with one that rewards improvement and provides real help to schools that need it..."
Under rules adopted under the No Child Left Behind Act, 48 LBUSD schools are in the undesirable category of "program improvement" schools for having failed for several years in a row to produce certain academic performance results that meet federal standards for all federally defined demographic subgroups. LBUSD's release says that in many cases, its schools in "program improvement" status have made "significant gains" in student achievement.
The waiver for LBUSD and seven other CA school districts lets school administrators implement a system that labels schools as "priority schools" (graduation rate under 60%, schools needing the most assistance), "focus schools" (lowest 5% based on "achievement gap" in demographic subgroups and less than 20% average proficiency on Math and English Language Arts assessments with less than 5 percentage points of improvement within the past three years) or "reward schools" (schools of meritorious distinction). Under the waiver, "reward schools" will be paired with "priority schools" to share what administrators call effective practices.
LBUSD currently has no "priority schools" because none of its schools perform in the bottom 5 percent on Math and English tests...but LBUSD would have three "focus schools": Jefferson Middle School, Burcham K-8 School and Harte Elementary School.
LBUSD also notes in its release that some schools, such as Franklin Middle School, will be designated as "reward schools" under the new system instead of "program improvement" schools under the current national system based on Franklin showing academic growth for all student subgroups and its algebra proficiency rates far exceeding those statewide despite 100% of its students living in poverty as determined by eligibility for free and reduced price meals. "Schools like Franklin need to be recognized for the fine job they're doing," Superintendent Steinhauser said in the release.
The waiver of the No Child Left Behind Act's requirements effectively lets LBUSD spend roughly $6.8 million in federal taxpayer dollars with greater flexibility. Under current rules, LBUSD had to spend much of that sum on supplemental service providers, private tutors or other academic services. Under the waiver, LBUSD can spend the money for what Superintendent Steinhauser says in the release will be "more effective interventions for students, such as extra academic help provided by trained, certificated staff."
LBREPORT.com has been unable to find any record of a publicly agendized/publicly voted action by LBUSD's School Board explicitly authorizing pursuit of the federal waiver. The Long Beach School Board has previously voted publicly to approve a legislative policy stance urging Congress to modify aspects of the "No Child Left Behind" Act, an action that would apply nationwide.
It's not immediately clear if LBUSD management plans to agendize the waiver for voted School Board approval. LBUSD management's pursuit of the waiver has been quite visible as part of the collective effort by the eight CA districts and has to date drawn no publicly audible objection from LBUSD School Board members.
Below are extended portions of the respective Aug. 6 releases by LBUSD, the U.S. Dept. of Education and a Sacramento consulting firm (Capitol Impact) [and update: State Sup't of Public Instruction statement] on the federal action.
[LBUSD release text] Eight school districts in the non-profit California Office to Reform Education -- a consortium that includes the Long Beach Unified School District -- have been granted a waiver from the Obama Administration to implement the School Quality Improvement System in place of No Child Left Behind accountability rules.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the approval of the waiver today.
"The CORE districts have been engaged in collaboration and innovation designed to promote deep student learning and effective implementation of new standards that will prepare students for college and a career," Duncan said. "The districts’ approved plan includes key accountability components that when implemented will surpass the rigor of the current NCLB system and provide an opportunity to expand innovative interventions and practices that can improve student achievement, rather than spending time and resources implementing NCLB’s one-size-fits-all mandates."
"Today is a momentous day for schools and students in the Long Beach Unified School District," said LBUSD Superintendent Christopher J. Steinhauser. "This waiver provides flexibility to improve our efforts to prepare all students for college and careers. Like Governor Brown's recently approved funding formula for schools, this waiver returns much needed control and flexibility to the local level. As educators, we have sought such flexibility for years. Secretary Duncan's announcement represents a seismic shift in school accountability for us, replacing an unfair and punitive system with one that rewards improvement and provides real help to schools that need it. We thank the secretary for his careful review of this waiver, and for having the courage to approve it."
Under existing No Child Left Behind rules, 48 schools in the Long Beach Unified School District were designated last year as Program Improvement schools, meaning they were subject to federal sanctions, in many cases despite significant gains in student achievement. School districts throughout the nation have faced similar scenarios under No Child Left Behind, sparking NCLB waivers in dozens of states. Today's waiver is the first such NCLB waiver for California schools, and it creates a new system for designating schools as either priority schools (those needing the most assistance), focus schools, and schools of distinction (reward schools). Reward schools would be paired with priority schools so that effective practices can be shared. Under the new system, Long Beach would have no priority schools, because, among other reasons, Long Beach does not have any schools that perform in the bottom 5 percent on math and English tests. Long Beach would have three focus schools: Jefferson Middle School, Burcham K-8 School and Harte Elementary School.
Some schools, such as Long Beach’s Franklin Middle School, will be designated as reward schools under the new system, as opposed to program improvement schools under the old system. Franklin has shown academic growth for all subgroups of students, and its algebra proficiency rates far exceed the state’s despite the fact that 100 percent of Franklin’s students live in poverty, as determined by eligibility for free and reduced price meals.
"Schools like Franklin need to be recognized for the fine job they're doing," Steinhauser said.
The elimination of sanctions frees up about $6.8 million in federal funding. Until now, Long Beach schools have been forced to spend much of that funding on supplemental service providers, or private providers of tutoring and other academic services.
"Instead of spending those resources on private providers that face little accountability, we can direct those funds toward more effective interventions for students, such as extra academic help provided by trained, certificated staff," Steinhauser said.
While all ten CORE districts contributed to the development of the School Quality Improvement System, eight school districts that are part of the CORE consortium applied to participate in the School Quality Improvement System through a bundled waiver request. The eight participating districts are Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Sanger, and Santa Ana Unified School Districts. Together, these CORE districts serve more than a million students...
[U.S. Dept. of Education release text]...Earlier this year, California notified the Department that the state did not plan to request Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) flexibility for the 2013-2014 school year and instead will focus on implementing its new college- and career-ready standards. As a result, the Department considered a separate request for waivers from the CORE districts [eight districts requesting waivers], which together serve over one million students - more students than most states. These districts are leading the way for their state in moving forward with higher standards for all students, particularly English Learners, students with disabilities, and low-achieving students. Since California adopted new standards in 2010, these districts have created shared plans for implementation, systems to improve instruction and promote continuous learning, and joint professional development and supports for teachers. With their new accountability system, the districts will hold themselves and their schools accountable for the performance of thousands more students in underserved subgroups than under NCLB, including approximately 23,000 additional African American students, 15,000 Hispanic students, 20,000 English Learners, 10,000 low-income students, and 46,000 students with disabilities. Teachers and leaders in these districts will also receive more meaningful feedback on their practice through new evaluation systems designed to support improved instruction and increase student learning. As a result of these rigorous plans, the Department is granting the eight districts flexibility from some of NCLB's restrictive mandates to allow them to better focus on key reforms to improve student achievement and increase the quality of instruction.
"The CORE districts have been engaged in collaboration and innovation designed to promote deep student learning and effective implementation of new standards that will prepare students for college and a career," said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. "The districts' approved plan includes key accountability components that when implemented will surpass the rigor of the current NCLB system and provide an opportunity to expand innovative interventions and practices that can improve student achievement, rather than spending time and resources implementing NCLB's one-size-fits-all mandates. The significance of their willingness to step up, and for the first time, hold themselves accountable for literally tens of thousands of children who were invisible under NCLB cannot be overstated."
The Department is approving the CORE districts for a one-year waiver from six ESEA requirements and their associated regulatory, administrative and reporting requirements. These waivers are authorized under ESEA section 9401, and are being granted directly to the districts participating in CORE, and not to the CORE organization itself.
The Department will closely monitor the districts' implementation of their plans, and will work with the California Department of Education, the California State Board of Education, and the CORE districts to develop an integrated monitoring strategy.
[Sacramento PR firm release text]...The School Quality Improvement System will measure multiple aspects of student success across academic, social-emotional, and school culture and climate domains that research has found to be significant indicators of college and career readiness. Indicators will include student progress on Common Core-aligned assessments and factors such as the elimination of disproportionality in school discipline, chronic absenteeism, and non-cognitive factors such as grit or resilience. School culture and climate will also be measured. Districts participating in the School Quality Improvement Plan will collect and share data on these indicators far beyond that necessary for federal accountability purposes so that they can learn from each other about what is working, and how to correct course when students or schools are falling behind.
The additional data elements will be shared among all participating districts so that they can hold themselves and each other accountable for closing achievement gaps at the same time that overall student performance improves.
"Our collective commitment to equity has never been stronger," said John Deasy Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. "The School Quality Improvement System will shine a bright light on achievement gaps and disproportionality. We will work together and hold ourselves accountable for increasing achievement for all students while
eliminating disparity. We must do this to ensure a bright future for California and our communities."
A release says that under the waiver, there'll be a new accountability calculation, dubbed the "School Quality Improvement Index" which drops the minimum number of students necessary to be a recognized subgroup in index to 20, as compared to 100 under California's current state and federal accountability calculation.
With the change in subgroup inclusion size to 20, across the current eight participating districts, schools will be accountable for reporting progress on nearly 153,000 additional students, of whom a large percentage are African American, Latino, English Learning, or are students with disabilities.
With an ethos of shared focus on improvement and capacity building, rather than sanctions, the School Quality Improvement System requires that schools that are falling short in any of the domains for college and career readiness will be paired with schools that are having success with similar students so that effective practices can be shared through a culture of support and collaboration.
The districts will also use the shared data system to strengthen teaching and learning in their individual community. Each district will also be responsible for developing a teacher and principal evaluation system that is appropriate for their local community, but will be based on common indicators that exemplify effectiveness, and include student growth as a significant factor. Districts will determine the elements that will be common among educator effectiveness and evaluation systems during the 2013-14 school year, and each district will implement their locally developed system in the 2014-15 school year...
The School Quality Improvement System includes multiple levels of accountability, starting with transparency in student and school achievement data. Participating districts will also conduct self-evaluations, and will evaluate each other on how well they are meeting the commitments in the School Quality Improvement System. Finally, there will be an ultimate level of oversight provided by a cross-section of stakeholders from the California education community, which will provide an unbiased external compliance review of each district’s progress. Panel members will represent the civil rights, English learner, and students with disabilities communities, ACSA, CSBA, CCSEA, CTA, PTA, the Education Trust, the California Department of Education, and the California State Board of Education, as well as a member appointed by the governor.
The Oversight Panel will meet biannually to receive participating districts' self-evaluation reports with peer reviewer comments and recommendations regarding implementation progress and status.
While all ten CORE districts contributed to the development of the School Quality Improvement System, eight school districts that are part of the CORE consortium applied to participate in the School Quality Improvement System through a bundled waiver request. The eight participating districts are Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Sanger, and Santa Ana Unified School Districts. Together, these CORE districts serve more than a million students.
[State Superintendent of Public Instruction statement]
...Tom Torlakson...issued the following statement after the U.S. Department of Education announced conditional approval of No Child Left Behind waiver applications by eight California school districts:
"All California schools deserve relief from the unworkable mandates of No Child Left Behind, so it's noteworthy that a few districts have -- temporarily at least -- managed to navigate the complex waiver requirements imposed by the Administration," Torlakson said. "I continue to believe that Congress should make it a priority to revise NCLB, and that relief from the failings of federal policy should not be reserved only for those prepared to provide Washington an ever-expanding role in the operation of California's public schools.
"California is in the midst of a historic and positive transformation of its public schools, making new investments in our children and their futures, and completing that work successfully remains my top priority. Once the terms of these agreements are made available to the Department and the public, I will encourage the districts involved to collaborate closely with teachers and other stakeholders in devising a workable system of accountability and oversight."
The New America Foundation provides background on the No Child Left Behind Act at this link.
[New America Foundation text] -- The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) is the most recent iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), the major federal law authorizing federal spending on programs to support K-12 schooling. ESEA is the largest source of federal spending on elementary and secondary education...
Since its initial passage in 1965, ESEA has been reauthorized seven times, most recently in January 2002 as the No Child left Behind Act. Each reauthorization has brought changes to the program, but its central goal of improving the educational opportunities for children from lower income families remains. The 1994 reauthorization, the Improving America’s Schools Act, put in place key standards and accountability elements for states and local school districts that receive funding under the law. These accountability provisions were further developed in the most recent reauthorization, the No Child Left Behind Act...
Although NCLB covers numerous federal education programs, the law’s requirements for testing, accountability, and school improvement receive the most attention. NCLB requires states to test students in reading and mathematics annually in grades 3-8 and once in grades 10-12. States must test students in science once in grades 3-5, 6-8, and 10-12. Individual schools, school districts and states must publicly report test results in the aggregate and for specific student subgroups, including low-income students, students with disabilities, English language learners, and major racial and ethnic groups.
NCLB requires states, school districts, and schools to ensure all students are proficient in grade-level math and reading by 2014. States define grade-level performance. Schools must make "adequate yearly progress" toward this goal, whereby proficiency rates increase in the years leading up to 2014. The rate of increase required is chosen by each state. In order for a school to make adequate yearly progress (AYP), it must meet its targets for student reading and math proficiency each year. A state’s total student proficiency rate and the rate achieved by student subgroups are all considered in the AYP determination.
However, Wisconsin -- along with 44 other states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the Bureau of Indian Education -- applied for a waiver from these targets and other NCLB requirements from the Department of Education. In September 2011, President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that the administration would allow states to request flexibility in meeting some of the requirements under NCLB in the absence of the law’s reauthorization.
Requirements that the Department of Education offered to waive include states meeting AYP targets whereby students must reach 100 percent student proficiency by 2014 in reading and math, and mandated interventions, whereby districts must allow students to attend different schools and offer Supplemental Educational Services for Title I schools and school districts failing to meet the AYP targets. The waivers also allowed states to opt out of mandatory interventions for districts failing to meet requirements to staff only ‘Highly Qualified Teachers’ in their schools.
In order to receive flexibility through a waiver, states needed to demonstrate that they had adopted or would implement a series of reforms to their academic standards, student assessments, and accountability systems for schools and educators. Specifically, the Department required states to implement 1) college- and career-ready standards and assessments that measure student achievement and growth; 2) a differentiated accountability system that both recognizes high-achieving, high progress schools (reward schools) and supports chronically low-achieving schools (priority and focus schools); and 3) teacher and principal evaluation and support systems to improve instruction. A team of peer reviewers, along with Department staff, studied the proposals, commented on each request, and offered suggestions to states to help them win approval.
Since February 2012, 34 states and Washington, D.C. have been granted waivers, which will be in effect until the end of the 2013-14 school year, when states will have the opportunity to extend their waivers for another two years. For states without waivers, NCLB remains in full effect.
States have struggled with implementing the policies outlined in their waiver agreements with the Department of Education. Just like the provisions in NCLB that the waivers allow states to escape, reforms states set in motion using waivers have been controversial. Some constituencies have objected to the new policies. These include the new Common Core State Standards and assessments many states have adopted; the annual student achievement targets that states have set (which are often different for historically disadvantaged groups of students); states’ new systems for measuring school quality and/or identifying schools for improvement; and states’ plans to implement teacher and principal evaluations based in part on student test scores. Despite these difficulties, it appears likely that waivers will continue to serve as de facto federal policy until NCLB is reauthorized.
School Improvement, Corrective Action, and Restructuring
Schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years are identified for "school improvement," and must draft a school improvement plan, devote at least 10 percent of federal funds provided under Title I of NCLB to teacher professional development. Schools that fail to make AYP for a third year are identified for corrective action, and must institute interventions designed to improve school performance from a list specified in the legislation. Schools that fail to make AYP for a fourth year are identified for restructuring, which requires more significant interventions. If schools fail to make AYP for a fifth year, they much implement a restructuring plan that includes reconstituting school staff and/or leadership, changing the school’s governance arrangement, converting the school to a charter, turning it over to a private management company, or some other major change.
School districts in which a high percentage of schools fail to make AYP for multiple years can also be identified for school improvement, corrective action, and restructuring...
NCLB requires school districts to provide immediate assistance to children attending schools in need of improvement, in the form of public school choice and supplemental educational services.
The first year that a school is in school improvement (after it fails to make AYP for two consecutive years), the school district must offer children the option to transfer to a higher-performing school in the same district. The second year a school is in school improvement, the district must also offer children the option to receive supplemental educational services -- tutoring and other outside-of-school services designed to improve academic achievement. School districts must spend up to 20 percent of their federal NCLB Title I funds on public school choice and supplemental services for students in schools identified for school improvement.
NCLB seeks to empower parents by providing them with information about how students, schools, and school districts are performing...
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