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Friday, September 23, 2011

Florida to request a waiver for NCLB

From the Orlando Sentinel

by Leslie Postal

The Obama administration will grant states relief from the "stifling" parts of the often-criticized federal No Child Left Behind law if they pursue the serious education reforms the White House advocates, officials announced Thursday evening.

States may apply for waivers from specific parts of the law if they are pushing their own tough accountability systems, working to close academic- achievement gaps between different groups of students and demanding that all students are prepared either for college or a career, the White House said.

Florida plans to seek a waiver under these new "flexibility" rules.

The state already is pushing many of the reforms the White House wants. It also has developed a so-called "Differentiated Accountability" system designed to make the federal law more palatable, in many of the same ways the Obama administration is now proposing..

Still, Florida educators have long objected to the law, especially when it did not mesh with the state's accountability system, which grades schools A-to-F.

Both systems aim to judge school performance by student test score data. But because they look at the data differently, they often end up with different conclusions.

The result is that some A-rated schools in Florida fail to make progress under the federal law, passed during President George W. Bush's administration.

Eagle's Nest Elementary in Orange County, for example, earned an A on its state report card this year. But because its black and low-income students continue to struggle, it is "failing" under the federal one, which looks at students by so-called subgroups. That meant it had to offer its students an option to transfer to other campuses this school year.

"The benefits of a waiver would be very evident for Florida, especially in giving us the ability to better align state and federal accountability requirements so parents and the public can more easily understand how our schools are doing," wrote Tom Butler, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Education, in an email.

Butler said details would not be available until the waiver application is finalized.

The president has been urging Congress to overhaul the No Child law, which is due for reauthorization. When it became clear such action was unlikely, the White House proposed an administration fix.

That fix will include an ability for states to be free of the requirement that all students be proficient in reading and math, as measured by state tests, by 2014. That was a key mandate of the law but one viewed as unreasonable by many educators.

The White House also wants the law to stop labeling so many schools as "failing," as more than 80 percent could be marked soon. That is because the law doesn't differentiate between a school "deeply in trouble," Obama said in a March speech, and those with more limited problems.

The White House wants the law to recognize schools that are making progress, even if they still have academic struggles.

The law's goal was admirable, Obama has said, as it tried to ensure that schools paid attention to those who most often struggled in public schools, including minority students, those learning English, those with disabilities and those from low-income families.

But his administration decided it also imposed "one-size-fits-all solutions" that harmed reform efforts undertaken at the state and local level.

Under Florida's "Differentiated Accountability" system, Florida tries to give the most intense help — and impose the stiffest requirements — on its most struggling schools, while letting others with smaller problems develop their own improvement plans. or 407-420-5273.,0,6539770.story

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