Friday, July 1, 2011

Activity Moving Quickly on NCLB Flexibility

This past week, I spent time at the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) Legislative Conference. It was my honor to serve on two panels. One panel discussed the “new normal” of higher expectations with less funding, and the other panel discussed the middle grades report that will soon be released by SREB.

Several House and Senate members from Kentucky were in attendance, along with members from the 10 other states that comprise the SREB. Kentucky Senator Jack Westwood chairs the SREB legislative conference. A much-discussed topic during the meeting was Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization and Kentucky’s request for flexibility, waiver and replacement of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability model.

This week, I also had the honor of serving on a panel sponsored by the American Institutes for Research and Education Week. The meeting location was the new Capitol Visitors Center in Washington, D.C. The topic of this panel was school turnaround. The meeting was attended by numerous D.C. advocacy groups and key staff with the House and Senate committees that are revising NCLB.

It appears that the House and Senate remain split on how to move forward with reauthorization. In discussions with Senate staff, there is strong support for the Council of Chief State School Officers’ (CCSSO’s) guiding principles for next-generation accountability systems to replace NCLB. Of course, these guiding principles were the basis for the Kentucky accountability model that was submitted to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan by Gov. Steve Beshear in our waiver request. On the House side, it appears that Chairman John Kline (R-MN) has a lot of new members on the committee and is moving toward several pieces of legislation to address components of reauthorization. Bottom line – most people in D.C. predict that we will not see reauthorization until after the presidential election in 2012.

This week, NPR highlighted Kentucky and Idaho as having two different approaches toward NCLB. Idaho, along with Utah, South Dakota, Montana and Nevada, has informed Sec. Duncan of its intent not to “raise the bar” for student proficiency this year as required by existing NCLB legislation. Kentucky has asked for replacement of NCLB accountability with a more rigorous model that promotes student growth and college/career readiness for all students.

While the two may seem at odds, they actually are not. The western states are asking for a method that would keep NCLB relevant. If 100 percent of schools and districts are labeled as “needs improvement” (which will soon happen due to the nature of NCLB legislation), then the law is not relevant. By holding the line at the current proficiency level, these states believe they would keep the law relevant until they develop new accountability models based on the CCSSO principles. The only difference between the two approaches is that Kentucky and other states (North Carolina and Colorado, to name just two) are ready to propose new accountability models based on CCSSO principles.

Over the next few weeks, CCSSO staff, chiefs from the states and our Kentucky staff will be communicating directly with the U.S. Department of Education to establish expectations and guidelines for the waiver process. My expectation is that Kentucky will have clear direction from the department concerning our accountability model prior to the start of the school year. Stay tuned – events are moving quickly.

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