“We are getting closer and closer to being approved” was the update members of the Kansas State Board of Education heard at their June meeting earlier this week. What they are waiting for is federal approval of their request for a waiver of the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).
State Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker said she and her staff had been on a conference call with representatives of the U.S. Department of Education right before the state board meeting started. As a result of that conversation, she said, her impression was that there are still a few details of the waiver that need to be negotiated. However, she thought federal approval would soon be forthcoming.
“Right now we’re at the point where it’s probably going to be approved before we meet again,” DeBacker told the board.
Kansas and 26 other states (including Missouri) were among the second round of waiver applicants earlier this year. And 11 states applied in the first round. So far all first-round applicants and eight of those in the second have received approval. Kansas and Missouri, along with 16 other second-round applicants, received letters in April asking for revisions.
Since submitting their revised waiver application May 14, state department of education staff members have been negotiating with the U.S. Department of Education. Kansas has agreed to focus more on raising achievement of the lowest-performing groups of students. Currently under discussion are revisions to the required new teacher evaluation plan. But the state hasn’t been the only party to the discussion demonstrating its flexibility on these issues, DeBacker said, indicating that there had been compromises on both sides.
U.S. Department of Education Officials, she said, “have been forced to crystallize what they really want and stand for and need.”
The issue of requiring more focus on lower-performing students prompted some discussion among state board members about whether flexibility waivers might end up being too much like the NCLB requirements they are designed to replace. One of those requirements is that all students in all schools achieve proficiency on state standardized tests by 2014, which is an impossible goal.
Board Member Walt Chappell, in particular, expressed concern about “setting schools up for failure again” by setting unreachable goals for “the hardest kids to teach.” He also wondered whether the federal government’s flexibility waiver offer would lead to meaningful education reform.
“None of this has anything to do with reform,” Chappell said. “It has to do with their fantasies, what they think might work.”
However, few of the other state board members appeared to share his concern, and state education department officials have permission to continue negotiating.
The Kansas State Board of Education meet Tuesday and Wednesday of this week in Topeka. Their next meeting will take place July 11-12.
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