Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Maryland Exploring Withdrawal from Bush-Era "No Child Left Behind" Law

UPDATE: The Baltimore Sun confirms that Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Hairston will be finishing up his contract next June.

Maryland is exploring a quiet shift in educational policy, as its public schools face increasing budget challenges. But these changes could reflect a major change in how Maryland schools function in the future. Capital News Service reports that the State Department of Education is looking at replacing the Bush-era "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) standardized test regime with alternate benchmarks for student progress:
Maryland may apply for a waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements after President Barack Obama announced that he is allowing states to request flexibility from the decade-old law in exchange for a more rigorous system that promotes college and career readiness. 
The Maryland State Department of Education is very interested in the waiver package, and according to MSDE spokesman Bill Reinhard, “the state is likely to sign on” after reviewing all the necessary information.
In a September 23rd speech, President Obama outlined the reasoning for the retreat from NCLB. Maryland Juice provides some speech excerpts below:
...I want to say the goals behind No Child Left Behind were admirable, and President Bush deserves credit for that.  Higher standards are the right goal.  Accountability is the right goal. Closing the achievement gap is the right goal.  And we’ve got to stay focused on those goals.  But experience has taught us that, in it’s implementation, No Child Left Behind had some serious flaws that are hurting our children instead of helping them.  Teachers too often are being forced to teach to the test.  Subjects like history and science have been squeezed out.  And in order to avoid having their schools labeled as failures, some states, perversely, have actually had to lower their standards in a race to the bottom instead of a Race to the Top.  They don't want to get penalized?  Let’s make sure that the standards are so low that we’re not going to be seen failing to meet them.  That makes no sense. 
So starting today, we’ll be giving states more flexibility to meet high standards.  Keep in mind, the change we’re making is not lowering standards; we’re saying we’re going to give you more flexibility to meet high standards.  We’re going to let states, schools and teachers come up with innovative ways to give our children the skills they need to compete for the jobs of the future.  Because what works in Rhode Island may not be the same thing that works in Tennessee -– but every student should have the same opportunity to learn and grow, no matter what state they live in.
U.S. Secretary of Arne Duncan further clarified the basis for exempting states from NCLB:
I am writing to offer you the opportunity to request flexibility on behalf of your State, your LEAs, and your schools, in order to better focus on improving student learning and increasing the quality of instruction. This voluntary opportunity will provide educators and State and local leaders with flexibility regarding specific requirements of NCLB in exchange for rigorous and comprehensive State-developed plans designed to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps, increase equity, and improve the quality of instruction....
I invite each interested SEA to request this flexibility pursuant to the authority in section 9401 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), which allows me to waive, with certain exceptions, any statutory or regulatory requirement of the ESEA for an SEA that receives funds under a program authorized by the ESEA and requests a waiver....
The previously mentioned Capital News Service story also featured comments from new MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr and clarified that the exemption from NCLB would not be a free pass:
Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said he’s “glad someone finally brought common sense” to the discussion, adding that NCLB should be ended for a more appropriate system.... 
The waivers, however, will not just be given to states applying for flexibility. According to the U.S. Department of Education, states looking for flexibility from NCLB have to “develop a rigorous and comprehensive plan” that addresses three areas: transition to college and career-readiness; recognition and support; and teacher evaluation and support systems to improve educational outcomes for all students; and close achievement gaps.
The timing of this change coincides with other recent education policy discussions (ie: funding of teacher pensions, Maryland's maintenance of effort law, and other recent controversies) -- but it is the first major education policy discussion that is not strictly about funding and contracts. *sigh of relief* The change also comes with a new Superintendent in MoCo and Baltimore County (the Towson Patch reports Joe Hairston is ending his term there).

Maryland Juice will follow education policy changes that flow from NCLB reform.  In the meantime, perhaps a reader can help explain the conflicting reviews of Prince George's Superintendent William Hite's performance. A reader highlights an anti-Hite blog called PGCPS Mess, while the Washington Post describes his tenure as smooth.

1 comment:

  1. Matt Yglesias has an interesting post explaining why NCLB waivers are an effort to advance school reform, not a retreat from reform: