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Missouri wins waiver from No Child Left Behind rules

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 29, 2012 - Missouri will be freed from the mandates of the No Child Left Behind, the federal Department of Education announced Friday.

By having its application for a waiver be one of five accepted by Washington, Missouri will be able to use its own system of accountability for public schools to identify which ones need help instead of using the often criticized standards that were put into place during the administration of George W. Bush.

Congress has been unable to come to any agreement on how to reauthorize and change those provisions, in an effort now known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, so the Obama administration offered waivers to states that could show their methods of gauging school progress would reach the same goal.

What changes can Missouri families expect as a result of the waiver?

Margie Vandeven, assistant commissioner for the office of quality schools, said that instead of the sometimes confusing array of reports gauging the progress of districts across the state, education officials will be issuing only one -- the annual performance report.

She noted that that report at times has conflicted with the adequate yearly progress report that had been mandated by No Child Left Behind. Scores on MAP tests will still be part of the performance report, but it will also include other measures such as attendance and how well students are being prepared for college or careers.

Vandeven also noted that because of the waiver, federal funds that had been distributed on a fairly rigid basis determined by Washington will now be doled out to districts on a more flexible basis. She said the resources will be focused on fewer schools, those demonstrating the greatest need, so they should be more effective in improving academic achievement.

"This isn't about sanctions," Vandeven said. "This is about providing support that will help."

The federal waiver program concentrated on three areas:

  • Expectations for all students to graduate ready for college or a career
  • Accountability and support from the state to bolster student achievement
  • Support for effective leadership and instruction

"We are celebrating the approval of Missouri's ESEA waiver, and we greatly appreciate the hard work and feedback of all those who were involved," said Missouri Commissioner of Education Chris L. Nicastro in a statement.
"While this is the culmination of the application process, the real effort is just beginning. Our goal is to ensure that all students graduate from high school college- and career-ready and for Missouri to become one of the top 10 states in education by the year 2020."

The waiver will go into effect immediately for the 2012-13 school year, although there will be some implementation and phase in throughout the year.

In a letter to Nicastro, Education Secretary Arne Duncan cited a number of reasons that the Missouri waiver was granted:

In particular, it said, "Missouri has: (1) demonstrated that it has college- and career-ready expectations for all students; (2) developed, and has a high-quality plan to implement, a system of differentiated recognition, accountability, and support for all Title I districts and schools in the State; (3) committed to developing, adopting, piloting, and implementing teacher and principal evaluation and support systems that support student achievement; and (4) provided an assurance that it will evaluate and, based on that evaluation, revise its administrative requirements to reduce duplication and unnecessary burden on districts and schools.

"Our decision is also based on Missouri’s assurance that it will meet these four principles by implementing the high-quality plans and other elements described in its request and in accordance with the required timelines."

Duncan congratulated Nicastro"on submitting a request that demonstrates Missouri’s commitment to improving academic achievement and the quality of instruction for all of the State’s elementary and secondary school students."

In a conference call with reporters, Duncan and Carmel Martin, assistant secretary for planning, evaluation and policy development at the Department of Education, emphasized that the whole purpose of the waiver program is to shift the emphasis for education policy from Washington to the states.

"There is a much better chance of success than if policy is mandated from Washington," Duncan said.

The result, he added, will be a more comprehensive and honest assessment of how students and states are performing.

Even though the waivers will put responsibility on the states, they added, federal officials will be keeping close track to make sure the promises made by the waiver applications are met. If they aren't, Duncan said, the waivers can be revoked.

"We will be working closely with them" Martin said, "to make sure they carry through with what they promise in these plans and also be a resource for them."

Missouri’s applicationemphasizes high academic standards, a single system of accountability throughout the state, more flexibility for schools with a high percentage of students from poor families, a focus on school improvement and an improved teacher evaluation system.

To press for acceptance of the Missouri application, Nicastro made a quick trip to Washington last month. She said that the fifth version of the Missouri School Improvement Planis just the kind of home-grown evaluation system that Washington has been looking for to replace the one-size-fits-all system of No Child Left Behind that too often has made good schools look like failures in the eyes of the public.

Earlier this week, during his visit to Vashon High School, Duncan had said he was encouraged by Missouri’s strong application for a waiver and he expected an announcement on its acceptance to come soon.

Missouri was one of five states to receive approval today in round two of the waiver request, along with Arkansas, South Dakota, Utah and Virginia. A waiver application from Illinoisis still pending.

In all, 11 states received waivers in the first round of requests, announced earlier this year. In the second round, 26 more states and the District of Columbia requested relief from the dictates of No Child Left Behind; out of that group, eight acceptances were announced last month.

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.

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