Commentary: Opportunity and Challenge in ‘No Child’ Rewrite


President George W. Bush signs the No Child Left Behind Act into law in 2001.

By Chris Hofmann

President Obama last week signed the most important education legislation in over a decade, the long-awaited reauthorization of ESEA and No Child Left Behind. The provisions of the law will have a profound effect on what school is like for my class of 26 fourth graders and will reverberate throughout the everyday educational experiences of our nation’s 50 million K-12 students.

The bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), is a significant improvement over earlier versions and makes key changes to the way we hold schools accountable for what students learn. It also provides a critical opportunity for experimentation and research in what makes a great school. That said, the law is not without its challenges. Ultimately, it will only live up to ESEA’s legacy as a seminal civil rights law if educators, parents and students hold state lawmakers accountable for learning from past efforts and making changes that improve outcomes for all students.

One way that ESSA improves upon No Child Left Behind is that it recognizes that proficiency on state tests is only one dimension of a school’s quality.

When I think about my fourth graders, I realize that no single data point can truly capture who my students are or what they can do. Likewise, no single data point linked to a state test score can truly capture the educational experience of a school. ESSA recognizes this and requires states to include at least four academic indicators: proficiency on state tests, English language proficiency, high school graduation rates and a fourth state-determined factor of academic quality.

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Cortines, Zimmer praise passage of federal ‘No Child’ rewrite

RamonCortinesLA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines and board President Steve Zimmer joined a chorus of praise today from state education leaders as the Senate passed a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which is now known as the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The bill now awaiting the signature of President Obama cuts back on federal oversight of education and shifts much of the power to the states, which will be crafting their own accountability systems that will go into effect for the 2017-18 school years.

LA Unified, along with five other districts part of the California Office of Reform Education (CORE), has been receiving federal waivers from the provisions of NCLB after demonstrating its accountability system was more robust that what NCLB called for.

“We are pleased with the overall balance in the bill regarding accountability and school improvement,” Cortines said in a statement. “As a leader in the CORE districts, which received a federal waiver from many of the unworkable NCLB requirements, we look forward to working with the California Department of Education in designing the state’s new school accountability system. We are hopeful that we will be able to continue implementing the many positive reforms included in our waiver. LAUSD is committed to its work to close the achievement gap, boost overall student achievement and increase high school graduation rates.”

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House version of NCLB revise would cost LA Unified $78.7 million

Superintendent Ramon Cortines

Superintendent Ramon Cortines

LA Unified’s chief lobbyist, Edgar Zazueta, told the school board last week that the House of Representatives version of the revised No Child Left Behind bill could cost the district $78.7 million in Title I money for low income schools, which translates to 22.9 percent of its funding.

The board has voted to protest the House bill but has yet to take a stand on the Senate version, which does not include that provision. Superintendent Ramon Cortines said that he will solicit input about how the district should respond to the Senate bill.

“It will no doubt not be everything we want, we will have to see what eventually comes through,” Cortines said.

The two bills, now before a House-Senate conference committee to reach a compromise, are efforts to revamp the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), commonly known as” No Child Left Behind.” The efforts has been eight years in the making, and significant barriers and compromises remain, Zazueta told the board in his overview.

He predicted that the compromises could take several months, with the biggest issues over accountability, portability and funding. It remains unclear, he said if House Speaker John Boehner would bring the conference bill to the floor for a vote if it would lose a significant number of Republican votes.

In one major difference between the two bills, Zazueta said, the House version would allow parents to opt their children out of tests without penalties to schools. He warned that such action could lead to less accountability of schools, or comparisons across the country.

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Senate NCLB rewrite gets lots of praise, some yawns, a few boos

Senator Elizabeth Warren NCLB

Senator Elizabeth Warren

The Senate passed a rewrite of the expired No Child Left Behind law yesterday with broad, bipartisan support.

The George W. Bush-era law is controversial due to the high-stakes standardizing testing it ushered in, and the Senate’s bill would strip away much of the federal government’s test-and-punish powers.

The bipartisan support it received is in contrast to a rival House bill that passed last week without a single Democrat voting in favor of it. The two bills now set up “a showdown between the two chambers, and leaves the fate of a final measure in doubt,” the New York Times reported.

Many leading Republicans and Democrats have voiced support for the Senate’s version, although the White House had a lukewarm reaction, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, a prominent national figure in the Democratic party, was one of three Democrats to vote against it.

Here is a sampling of reaction to the Senate action from political and education leaders:

  • “This bill still falls short of truly giving every child a fair shot at success by failing to ensure that parents and children can count on local leaders to take action when students are struggling to learn.”— Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The Hill
  • “Every student in America will be better off under this legislation than the generation of students wronged by No Child Left Untested. This bill reflects a paradigm shift away from the one-size-fits-all assessments that educators know hurt students, diminish learning, narrow the curriculum and that they fought to change.” — NEA President Lilly Eskelsen-García. NEA Today
  • “I cannot in good conscience support a bill that falls short of investing in the potential and promise of all of our children, especially New Jersey’s most vulnerable students.” Senator Corey Booker, one of three Democrats to vote against the bill. Politico

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No Child Left Behind reborn as ‘Every Child Achieves’

Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). (Credit:

Senators Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander (Credit:

Move over, No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

In an unusual show of bi-partisan support, the Senate Committee on Education this week approved the overhaul of the controversial Bush-era legislation, re-branding it ‘Every Child Achieves Act of 2015.’

The bill’s strong bipartisan support — it passed with a 22-0 vote — gives it some momentum as it heads to the Senate floor.

How much of a rewrite is it?
While it still requires federally mandated standardized tests, the bill restores more local control, giving states far more responsibility for setting their own accountability.  Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the committee’s chairman and one of the bill’s authors, explained in a statement that “this change should produce fewer tests and more appropriate ways to measure student achievement. It is the most effective path to advance higher state standards, better teaching, and real accountability.”

Co-sponsor and ranking Democrat Patty Murray (D-Wash.) issued a statement calling the vote a “positive step toward fixing the badly broken No Child Left Behind law and ensuring that all students have the opportunity to learn, no matter where they live, how they learn, or how much money their parents make.”  Continue reading

Sacramento City Unified won’t renew NCLB waiver

947ff2df8b9acd4f6b4187e5b1d44046Via EdSource | By John Fensterwald

Faced with intense opposition from teachers, Sacramento City Unified announced Wednesday it would not join other California districts in reapplying for a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Its defection leaves seven of eight districts seeking to extend a waiver from the federal accountability law through the California Office to Reform Education, a nonprofit that they formed. The waiver they got last year was the first for school districts, as opposed to a state department of education.

The CORE districts applied because California was one of only four states that either didn’t seek a waiver or had its request rejected.

Read the full story here.

Teachers Unions Chagrin: Waiver Process Left Them Out

Sad-TeacherThe two biggest statewide teachers unions — California Teachers Association (CTA) and California Federation of Teachers (CFT) — have problems with the waivers granted to eight school districts from the federal program, No Child Left Behind. The objections, however, are more about how they came about than what they mean.

“My guess is that there are probably some elements in there that we would embrace, but I think the process itself is flawed,” said CFT President Joshua Pechthalt. “Somehow, the women and men who are actually in the classrooms doing the day-to-day teaching were left out of the process of improving our schools. It’s just not going to work.”

The waiver request was put together by superintendents from eight school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, who received guidance from the U.S. Department of Education and other third parties. Elected school boards were not asked to sign off.

Pechthalt added: “It’s a top-down, one-size-fits-all reform.”

The CTA expressed similar objections to the waiver agreement, blaming Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

“By approving this waiver, Secretary Duncan once again demonstrates how his rhetoric that educators be actively involved in education change is just that – rhetoric,” CTA President Dean Vogel said in a statement. “Not one of the local teachers’ associations in the eight school districts was included in the discussion or signed the waiver application.”

UTLA President Warren Fletcher declined to comment.

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No Child Left Behind Waiver for CA Districts Includes ‘Unique’ Oversight Panel*

imagesIn granting eight CA school districts a No Child Left Behind waiver, the federal government is creating for the first time an oversight body to measure schools’ progress.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the panel “unique” among the waivers granted to 39 states and the District of Columbia.

“We went back and forth about how to have oversight and hold these districts accountable,” said Duncan. “The panel idea was a significant improvement from the system they first proposed.”

The 14-member oversight body will provide an “unbiased external compliance review” of each district’s progress after a series of self- and peer-evaluations.

The group includes a Governor’s appointee and a representative for administrators, school boards, superintendents, unions, parents, the civil rights community, English learners and disabled students.

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‘No Child’ Waiver OKd for LA Unified, 7 Other CA School Districts*

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan

The U.S. Department of Education today approved a long-awaited federal waiver that allows LA Unified and seven other California districts to replace No Child Left Behind accountability rules with their own school improvement system.

The waiver creates a unique 14-member oversight body to provide an “unbiased external compliance review” of each district’s progress after a series of self- and peer-evaluations. The group includes a Governor’s appointee and a representative for administrators, school boards, superintendents, unions, parents, the civil rights community, English learners and disabled students.

In effect, compliance with the terms of the waiver will require agreement from factions that routinely disagree with each other to sign off on academic progress.

An oversight panel was not included in earlier versions of the waiver request. It was added as a mechanism to discourage dissent and win support from groups that might otherwise have objected to protocols of the wavier.

Secretary Arne Duncan called the body “unique” among the waivers granted by the Department.

The eight districts from California Office to Reform Education (CORE) include Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Sanger and Santa Ana Unified School Districts. Altogether, they represent over 1 million students.

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CA Districts in DC for Final ‘No Child’ Waiver Pitch

CORE Executive Director Rick Miller

CORE Executive Director Rick Miller

Pressed for time, a small group of superintendents and officials from a coalition of nine California school districts, representing 1.1 million students, are on their way to D.C. to ensure that its No Child Left Behind waiver proposal is passed in time for the upcoming school year.

Representatives from the California Office to Reform Education (CORE) will be meeting with federal officials on Wednesday and are still confident that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will approve their request to be exempted from requirements of the federal law that could cause school closures if not met by 2014.

On his way to the airport, CORE Executive Director Rick Miller said the districts might have a better chance of getting the waiver passed if everyone was in the same room.

“We feel like we are really close to getting the waiver passed,” said Miller. “But it’s a 70-something page document with a lot of technical information and it’s a difficult conversation to continue to have digitally.”

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Update: Federal Review “Going In the Right Direction” for LAUSD


It’s still a waiting game for LA Unified and eight other California school districts who have yet to hear if their revised No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver application will be given the thumbs up by the US Department of Education in Washington.

The nine districts, known as California Office to Reform Education (CORE), are still in the dark as to if and when they might be exempted from some of the more stringent requirements of the federal NCLB law that among other things requires all students to be proficient in English and math by 2014.

But spirits remain high.

The Obama administration continues to send positive signals about the process.

“If there are millions of kids and we could make a difference, then that’s something we have to look at,” said Joanne Weiss, chief of staff to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in a recent EdWeek interview.

And, according to CORE, the plan to have the waiver accepted by the start of this upcoming school year is still very much in motion.

“We’ve been having less formal, ongoing conversations with the U.S. Department of Education” in recent weeks, Hilary McLean, CORE’s director of communications told LA School Report. “Things seem to be going in the right direction.”

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Duncan Signals Support for LAUSD Waiver Proposal

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan seems to be trying to turn over a new leaf with California Gov. Jerry Brown after years of tense disagreements, notes EdSource Today after Duncan praised Brown’s new funding formula at an event Friday night in San Francisco.

Even more immediately important for LAUSD, Duncan sounded sympathetic to the newly resubmitted No Child Left Behind waiver application request by a consortium of districts including LAUSD calling itself The California Office to Reform Education (CORE) to allow them to revamp school accountability ratings and free up federal funding.

“I think we have some really courageous superintendents who are trying to do the right thing, so we’ll continue to work through the details and go back and forth,” Duncan said of the CORE district application.

Previous posts: Feds Want More Details from Waiver Application;LAUSD Will Resubmit Federal Waiver Application – But Not State;Reform Group Splits over Federal Waiver for LAUSD

LAUSD Proposal Includes Truancy in School Ratings

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Truancy would be a key factor in the new school rating system that’s being proposed by a consortium of California districts including LAUSD, according to a new EdSource Today article.

Chronic absenteeism would be one of the criteria of the group’s proposed new “School Quality Improvement Index,” which is part of a so-called waiver of the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind which is currently under review in Washington.

Previous posts: Truancy Series Wins National Journalism Award, Feds Want More Details from Waiver Application

LAUSD Will Resubmit Federal Waiver Application – But Not State*

Three more states — Alaska, Hawaii and West Virginia — have been awarded so-called “waivers” from some of the key provisions of the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

But there’s still no news on the fate of LAUSD’s application, or whether the state will try and get a statewide waiver.

*UPDATE:  The state Department of Education has issued a statement that it will not be applying for a waiver.  (See below.) The coalition representing LAUSD says that it plans to re-submit its application early next week. Continue reading

Feds Want More Details from Waiver Application

As Education Week reported last Friday, the nine California school districts collectively known as CORE (California Office to Reform Education) are busy revising their application for a No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver.

The initial draft of the waiver application sent in by LAUSD and other districts was given to an anonymous peer review group established by the Federal government.  It’s since been reviewed, though neither CORE nor LAUSD are releasing the details.

For the most part, the review panel wanted more details.

“Our original waiver was written at the 30,000-foot level,” said CORE spokesperson Hilary McLean. “The peer review feedback came back, they wanted it at the 10,000-foot level.”

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Reform Group Splits over Federal Waiver for LAUSD

Gloria Romero

Earlier this week, a number of civil rights and school reform groups including Democrats for Education Reform (or DFER) sent a letter to United States Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan opposing the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver that LAUSD and eight other California school districts had applied for.

But the next day, Gloria Romero, head of the California chapter of DFER, sent her own letter to Secretary Duncan in support of the LAUSD waiver request.

So what happened?

According to an initial account in Education Week, Romero described the dueling letters as the unintentional result of miscommunication between the state and national divisions.

Commenting on the waiver issue at EdSource, Romero wrote that the national letter “reflected the DC branch and was, unfortunately, submitted without input from the CA DFER office which has long supported the CORE waiver request.”

“I understand the national [DFER organization] is looking at this and saying, let’s be consistent federally,” Romero told LA School Report. “But I think, locked in the bowels of Washington DC, they weren’t privy to the real issues on the street. They didn’t understand — these are the reformers.”

“The CORE group came together to overcome the political obstacles at the state level,” said Romero.  “We need to reward the guys willing to reform by any means necessary.”

“It probably is unusual, but I felt strongly that this was a state issue,” she said — adding later, perhaps a bit jokingly: “I might be out of the job tomorrow. Who knows?”

Previous posts: Civil Rights Groups Oppose LAUSD Waiver;  New Concerns About LAUSD “Waiver”District Waivers Worry State Education Chiefs

Morning Read: Board Likely to Back Classroom Breakfast

L.A. Unified Board Will Back Classroom Breakfast Program
A majority of L.A. Unified School Board members said they will vote to continue a classroom breakfast program that feeds nearly 200,000 children but was in danger of being axed after sharp criticism by the teachers union. LA Times
See also: LA School Report, KPCC

The Messy Complications of Breakfast in the Classroom
The Los Angeles Unified School District is in a period of tremendous upheaval that, it’s hoped, will result in better education for its students. With so much changing and so much at stake, of course there are more than a few daggers drawn. But when the teachers union and district administration can’t even get together over feeding hungry kids, something sick is going on. LA Times Opinion

Pre-K Funding is Delivered Another Blow
California state funding per child fell by more than than $400 compared with the previous year, and only 41% of 4-year-olds were served by public pre-K programs and Head Start in the 2011-12 school year, the institute reported. LAT

Washington and Sacramento Must End Cold War on Education
It is too late for California to get more than the sliver of Race to the Top funds it has already received. But the administration’s rejection of California’s NCLB waiver request is too important an issue to accept without further urgent efforts on both sides to reach a resolution. EdSource (opinion)

Walton Foundation Gives $8 Million to StudentsFirst
A foundation associated with the Wal-Mart family fortune has expanded its support for the education advocacy group run by former District of Columbia schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. LA Times

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Civil Rights Groups Oppose LAUSD Waiver

The education publication Education Week is reporting that eight major civil rights groups have written a letter to US Education Secretary Arne Duncan asking him to reject a request made by LAUSD and several other local school districts to give them a waiver from some of the key provision of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy has been a key proponent of the so-called “district waiver,” which he says would allow LAUSD to implement a school accountability plan that’s better than the current one required by NCLB and would also free up roughly $80 million in federal funding currently earmarked for tutoring and transportation.

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Update: New Concerns About LAUSD “Waiver”

While LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy says that a federal waiver from the law known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) could free up $80 million for student and teacher support services for the district — without reducing school accountability — and the Obama Administration has begun reviewing the LAUSD waiver request, state education officials and now some Washington think tankers are expressing concerns.

In a recent blog post titled “Mr. Secretary, please don’t do it,” Fordham Foundation pundit Andy Smarick writes that a waiver approval for LAUSD and other districts would be “an unprecedented and unwise decision.”

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Morning Read: Parent Trigger Proposal Well-Received

Proposal for Parent-Trigger Overhaul at L.A. School Well-Received
Leaders of a parent group have endorsed a plan to improve 24th Street Elementary, which would be jointly run by L.A. Unified and Crown Prep charter school. LA Times
See also: LA School Report, LA Times Now

Teacher Dismissal Bill Off and Running With Committee Approval
A bill intended to make it quicker and less costly to dismiss teachers received a 7-0 approval from the Assembly Education Committee on Wednesday, and its author – the chair of the committee, Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo – received much praise from her colleagues for taking on a contentious issue. EdSource
See also: Sac Bee

Calif. Districts’ Waiver Bid Now in Review Phase
The U.S. Department of Education and a band of outside peer reviewers are now weighing the details of a precedent-setting waiver application from nine districts in California that want flexibility under the No Child Left Behind Act even though their state’s bid for a waiver was unsuccessful. EdWeek

L.A. Unified Filling Security Jobs Created After Newtown Shooting
Los Angeles Unified has hired more than 750 security aides in response to the 26 deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. About 250 openings remain. LA Times

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