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January 25, 2015

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Waivers on No Child Left Behind announced; Nevada to apply

One of the biggest complaints Nevada educators have about the federal initiative to improve classroom education, No Child Left Behind, is that its higher and higher standards have left more and more schools falling behind, panting to catch up.

On Monday, Nevada schools learned they just might be able to catch their breath.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the government would allow states to bypass the law if they submit even better plans to improve school performance.

The waiver is good for as long as Congress remains gridlocked over how best to reauthorize the government’s operational law governing elementary and secondary education, he said.

Since it was passed in 2001, No Child Left Behind has been a source of growing frustration.

It requires public school systems to post annual improvements in 45 education and school quality categories, and sets a nationwide goal of 100 percent proficiency in math and reading by the 2013-14 academic year. Schools that fall short of any attainment goal are subject to consequences that range from transferring students to total restructuring of the underperforming schools.

But subpar performance is not just an incidental, school-to-school problem.

Many states, Nevada included, have seen entire school districts losing ground as they struggle to meet annual achievement thresholds. Some are posting worsening statistics instead of inching up toward the goals.

In Clark County, which the Education Department put on a watch list last week, 61 percent of schools failed to make “adequate yearly progress” — an uptick from last year.

State education officials say those toughening standards are largely to blame.

“The 2014 goal isn’t realistic,” said Keith Rheault, Nevada’s superintendent of public instruction. “There are better ways to measure school achievement.”

Nevada has homed in on one alternate strategy: a “growth model” under which officials will measure progress by comparing students’ personal achievements over time — improvement, student-to-student, will be the sign of success instead of an outside standard, set by tests.

Nevada is one of 18 states leaning toward adopting this model in the coming year — and to this point, it was an undertaking the state was going to have to pursue alongside continual efforts to meet No Child Left Behind obligations.

But the waiver offer is enticing.

“Every single government I’ve spoken to is very, very interested in this,” Duncan told reporters Monday. “The best ideas ... are going to come at the local level.”

Nevada will put together an application for a waiver, Rheault said.

He’s feeling fairly confident about the state’s chances.

“I think we’re in a good shape to apply for it,” Rheault said. “We need this relief.”

But concerns remain.

Nevada has received partial waivers to requirements in the past two years, but the standard for the total waiver — despite the fact that the door has been flung open far and wide — is higher.

“Every single state can receive this flexibility, but ... those states that aren’t able to comply will have to continue to operate under No Child Left Behind,” said Melody Barnes, President Barack Obama’s domestic policy adviser.

But the White House hasn’t been specific about what it’s looking for, and Nevada hasn’t had the best record when it comes to petitioning the federal government that the state can chart a better course to success.

Nevada failed colossally to secure a federal nod in last year’s Race to the Top funding, when the federal government offered competitive funding to public school systems engaged in innovative approaches to education.

And then there’s that last-among-states ranking.

Nevada has been trying to take steps to correct and reverse its public schools’ abysmal performance course of late, but the changes adopted in the last Legislature are only beginning to come into their full formation, and Nevada wants this waiver now.

For instance, the Legislature adopted a statewide teacher evaluation system, to be tied to student achievement, but it will take about two years for it to be implemented.

Duncan told the Sun on Monday that in cases like Nevada’s, the Education Department would do everything possible to bolster the state’s efforts — with the potential for calling in their marker, though, if it didn’t work.

“I’m really interested in those states that are trying to get better,” he said, suggesting his office would be inclined to grant a conditional waiver over no waiver at all. “We’d be open to states like that, that may not be as far along as others ... although if at some point they backed off the reforms, we’d probably back off the waiver.”

Although a waiver would provide Nevada temporary relief, it’s not a complete plan for improvement — not even if every project Nevada has implemented at the state level goes swimmingly.

With debts, deficits and downgrades demanding attention, no one in Washington is anticipating that Congress will turn to a reauthorization of No Child Left Behind by the deadline the White House set — the start of school. (It would be impossible, in fact, given that Congress is on vacation until after Labor Day.)

That’s a significant shortcoming for Congress, because education policy was one of the areas in which Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, the chief Republican in town, were thought to share common outlooks and goals. Boehner was one of the original drafters of the No Child Left Behind law; Obama had wanted to work within its parameters toward a reauthorization.

With no money on the table — underfunding was one of states’ chief complaints with the law’s mandates — and little extra energy to tackle yet another major statutory overhaul in the next few months, it’s not likely that lawmakers will take education policy up in the short term.

At some point though, they will — and then, the terms of compliance may change entirely.

But Duncan says that with more than 80 percent of schools on course to be pegged “failures” this year, the administration couldn’t wait.

“Congress didn’t act. It should have acted; we can’t afford to sit here and not help the states,” he said, pointing out that it didn’t cost the federal government anything to waive the requirements. “Our move can be a bridge or a transition ... people are begging, they’re imploring us to do that right thing.”

Demirjian reported from Washington, Takahashi from Las Vegas.

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  1. The "No Child Left Behind" is rapidly mutating into the Republican program of "No Child Left a Dime", or as Lawrence Welk might say, "No Child Left-a Behind".

    It puts all the responsibility on teaching and nothing on the home environment, physical education or environment. The statistics for child obesity are beyond belief, so physical education classes are cut back and Brian Sandoval attempts to increase class size to force better performance.

    Physical exercise and nutrition are critical to achieving the highest state of mental competence, yet they are both ignored in 'No Child' and teaching is blamed for poor performance.

    The stupidity of 'No Child' is that it is a one mind set, pathway to success written into law by those who are not educators and are incapable of teaching themselves. They are also the same clique that claim Government must be cut back because it interferes with 'freedom'.

    So what is it: Washington running all the elementary schools or getting out of our lives? 'No Child' is written by ideologues that are pushing several opposing philosophies at once and the result is chaos.

    The results of their financial philosophies have already devastated the country, but hopefully they won't be allowed to devastate the education system in the same manner.

  2. Jackiebrown,how can you blame it all on the UNIONS ?Nevada is a " right to work (for nothing )state"..
    From what I've read in the last year,teachers have taken drastic cuts..So where do you get the "money,money " idea ?

  3. The very person who created No Child Left Behind, Diane Ratevitch, denounced it later and claimed it to be a terrible mistake. Too late now, since the hands of the innept and the greedy have taken hold without so much an outcry from the taxpaying public all along the way.

    I will again repeat myself:
    Education in the United States of America is under the influence of corporate billionaires. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are promoted by these Billionaires as well as these Billionaires are also receiptiants benefitting from publishing, testing, analysis, other industries, etc. Can you now conclude that the very wealthy, powerful, elite billionaires of the USA, are are unfairly influencing public education? To uncover this little known truth, please take the time to read the Winter, 2011, Dissent article, "Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools," by Joanne Barkan.

    This responds to (Governor Sandoval's Educational consultant) Michelle Rhea and the anti-public education movie, Waiting for Superman, this article in Disent sets the facts straight about WHO is really controlling public education...and it ain't the public! Ms. Barkan writes, "All children should have access to a good public school. And public schools should be run by officials who answer to the voters. Gates, Broad, and Walton answer to no one. Tax payers still fund more than 99 percent of the cost of K--12 education. Private foundations should not be setting public policy for them. " Read how taxpayers are being duped and railroaded by a few elite billionaires who are basically controlling the education system and the pipeline for careers. After reading that article, the whole Department of Education has a cloud hanging over it that needs clearing up.

    PARENTS are a child's first teacher. They lay that foundation. When a child is entrusted to a public school teacher, that teacher BUILDS on top that foundation and on where that child should be at developmentally and academically. It is truly a PARTNERSHIP towards the best and highest for that child (hence, why a parent might hear from teachers about certain concerns until finally addressed). We all start somewhere and begin to grow towards mastery. To demand mastery for the whole USA by the year 2014 is INSANE!

    I think people are just beginning to see what has been going on in education. Sadly, a little LATE.

  4. Education policies are manipulated by a few who hold the power because of their wealth and it's all about making more of it,

    And they don't have to answer to no one when those policies fail.

    If only people will try and become informed. I guess that would be too much to ask. Listening to propaganda is much easier and thinking would be too involved.

    Such is democracy. We deserve exactly what we get.