Education Department grants Iowa temporary break on No Child Left Behind

The U.S. Department of Education has approved “one-year freeze of the target increases that schools are held to under the federal No Child Left Behind Act,” Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass announced on July 2. Iowa had requested the one-year freeze last week, shortly after federal education officials denied Iowa’s application for a waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements.

After the jump I’ve posted statements from Glass with more details and comments on the latest development, along with reaction from Iowa Senate Education Committee Chair Herman Quirmbach. I also added the statement announcing members of the new Instructional Time Task Force, created under Senate File 2284, the education reform bill approved at the end of the legislative session.

Bleeding Heartland discussed the U.S. Department of Education’s denial of Iowa’s waiver here. This press release from the Iowa Department of Education June 27 explained the next steps:

Because Iowa’s state application for a waiver from certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act was turned down, the Iowa Department of Education today requested a one-year freeze of the state target increases that schools are held to under the federal education law.

The targets vary by grade level and subject, but in most cases, they are set at about 80 percent and will increase by about 7 percent for 2012-13 unless the one-year freeze is put in place. Approval from the U.S. Department of Education would protect some schools from being impacted by the blame-and-shame sanctions required under No Child Left Behind.  

Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass described the request as a temporary and stopgap measure while the state continues to seek permanent relief from No Child Left Behind’s unrealistic accountability measures. In the absence of a waiver from No Child Left Behind or full reauthorization of the law, Iowa’s targets will continue to increase until schools are held to a requirement that 100 percent of students meet grade-level standards in reading and mathematics by 2014.

“We’re disappointed that Iowa did not receive a No Child Left Behind waiver, which would have allowed us to develop a rigorous accountability system that makes sense for Iowa and emphasizes student growth and progress in addition to proficiency on tests,” Glass said. “We’re hopeful that through this new request we can temporarily halt the ratcheting up of unrealistic targets that are included in the blame-and-shame policies of No Child Left Behind.”

The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires public schools and districts to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) targets for the overall student population and for demographic subgroups in grades 3-8 and grade 11. These subgroups include socio-economic status, limited English proficiency, race/ethnicity and special education. Schools most likely to be labeled as failures under No Child Left Behind are larger schools that serve the most disadvantaged students.

Schools must meet all targets in every student group to meet AYP and must test 95 percent of students in each group. As prescribed under the law, the U.S. Department of Education has put in place regular target increases to ensure schools meet the unrealistic No Child Left Behind requirement that 100 percent of students meet grade-level standards in reading and mathematics by 2014.  

President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last August invited states to apply for a waiver from the No Child Left Behind law in exchange for rigorous and comprehensive state-developed accountability plans. Iowa’s waiver proposal was submitted in February, and the Iowa Department of Education made it clear to the Iowa Legislature that state education policies must be brought in line with waiver requirements for Iowa’s application to be successful.

In a letter June 21, the U.S. Department of Education indicated Iowa’s waiver cannot be approved because of a new state legislative requirement that any changes to the system of educator evaluation must be studied by a task force and then brought back to the full Iowa Legislature in the 2013 session.

“While I hope today’s request is approved by the U.S. Department of Education, this temporary and stopgap measure really doesn’t address the root of the problem,” Glass said. “As a nation, we must make reauthorization and significant changes to the No Child Left Behind law a priority and address its flaws head on. Our children deserve better than tinkering and inaction.”

Iowa may play a key role in the work of No Child Left Behind reauthorization and revision through Senator Harkin’s important position as Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and through Glass’ involvement on a No Child Left Behind reauthorization advisory group with the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Federal officials responded to Iowa’s request very quickly. The Iowa Department of Education announced in this press release on July 2,

Iowa has received U.S. Department of Education approval for a one-year freeze of the target increases that schools are held to under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass said today.

“I’m grateful to the U.S. Department of Education for its prompt approval of this request, which will temporarily help schools while the Iowa Department of Education continues to seek permanent relief from the unrealistic accountability measures of No Child Left Behind,” Glass said. “For one year, this measure will halt the ratcheting up of unrealistic targets and protect some schools from being impacted by the blame-and-shame sanctions of No Child Left Behind.”

The number of schools impacted by the one-year target freeze isn’t immediately known because the Iowa Department of Education is in the process of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) determinations based on tests taken during the 2011-12 school year.

In the absence of a waiver from No Child Left Behind or full reauthorization of the law, Iowa’s targets will continue to increase until schools are held to the unrealistic requirement that 100 percent of students meet grade-level standards in reading and mathematics by 2014. The targets vary by grade level and subject, but in most cases they are now set at about 80 percent and would have increased by about 7 percent had Iowa’s request for a one-year target freeze been denied.

The Iowa Department of Education applied on June 27, roughly one week after the U.S. Department of Education turned down Iowa’s application for a waiver from certain requirements of No Child Left Behind.

Iowa’s waiver application, submitted in February, mapped out a bold accountability system that makes sense for Iowa and emphasizes student growth and progress in addition to proficiency on tests. The Iowa Department of Education also made it clear to the Iowa Legislature this past session that state education policies must be brought in line with waiver requirements for Iowa’s application to be successful.

Although the U.S. Department of Education commended Iowa’s high-quality proposal, approval wasn’t possible because the Iowa Legislature did not provide the Iowa Department of Education the authority to meet waiver requirements relating to educator evaluation.

No Child Left Behind requires public schools and districts to meet AYP targets for the overall student population and for demographic subgroups in grades 3-8 and grade 11. Schools most likely to be labeled as failures under No Child Left Behind are larger schools that serve the most disadvantaged students.

Schools must meet all targets in every student group to meet AYP and must test 95 percent of students in each group. As prescribed under the law, the U.S. Department of Education has put in place regular target increases to ensure schools meet the unrealistic No Child Left Behind requirement that 100 percent of students meet grade-level standards in reading and mathematics by 2014.  

Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001. With reauthorization of the law nearly four years overdue, President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last August invited states to apply for a waiver in exchange for rigorous and comprehensive state-developed accountability plans.

Iowa Senate Education Committee Chair Quirmbach  criticized the Branstad administration’s response to the No Child Left Behind waiver. In this statement released by the Iowa Senate on July 6, Quirmbach asserted that the latest action by federal officials vindicates state legislators’ actions.

One-Year NCLB Waiver Confirms Legislature’s Approach

On July 2, the U.S. Department of Education issued Iowa a one-year waiver of what Iowa Education Director Jason Glass called “the unrealistic accountability measures of [the federal] No Child Left Behind” law.

“The one-year waiver from USDE confirms that the Legislature’s careful, systematic, and bipartisan approach in the education reform bill we passed this spring is the best way to boost student achievement and educator quality in Iowa,” said Senator Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames), chairman of the Iowa Senate Education Committee.  “In passing Senate File 2284, we set up expert task forces and study groups in several key reform areas, including teacher and administrator evaluations, instructional time and school year design, and online learning.  Rather than rush to judgment with half-baked notions, the Legislature chose to seek wise counsel from education professionals, scholars, and other key stakeholders.”

“We look forward to using this time and our experts’ advice to formulate new policies that will do more than merely satisfy Washington’s bureaucratic requirements.  We want to focus on permanent education improvement for all Iowa students,” Quirmbach concluded.

“I urge once again that all parties set aside election-year finger pointing and resume the constructive discussions that began with the governor’s education summit last summer and continued into this year’s legislative session,” Quirmbach added.  “We need to buckle down and get to work with the task forces we set up in SF 2284, now that Governor Branstad has signed the law, so that appropriate legislation will be ready for early consideration in next January’s legislative session.”

Director Glass said on July2, “[T]he Iowa Department of Education continues to seek permanent relief” from the NCLB requirements.  Quirmbach agreed, “Let us all now use the time provided by the one-year waiver to work together toward that goal.”

Senator Quirmbach added another top priority.  “The other key goal must now be to find the money to fund the early-grade reading support programs established in SF 2284.  We in the Senate agree with the governor on the priority of making sure students don’t fall behind in reading.  We put good policies in place in SF 2284.  My biggest disappointment with the bill is that we couldn’t agree to fund them this year.”

In related news, Glass named members of a new “Instructional Time Task Force” this week.

July 03, 2012

Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass today announced the 16 Iowans who will serve on the Instructional Time Task Force, which was established in Senate File 2284 to study issues such as the school start date, length of the school day and school year, and after-school programming.

“This task force will draw from some great minds, both inside and outside of education, to help us study this important topic,” Glass said. “Time in school should be thought of as a variable that can be applied differently to each student. Some students do just fine with a traditional 180-day calendar. Other students need something different and something more.  Extending school time also is one of the most costly school reforms, so we should be thoughtful in using it.”

The task force will meet for the first time on July 26 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Grimes State Office Building. All meetings will be open to the public. Recommendations from the task force are due Oct. 15.

Members of the Instructional Time Task Force are as follows:

Shirley Phillips, Sac Economic Tourism and Development, Sac City

Mark Tucker, Retired Teacher/Coach, Indianola

Darryl DeRuiter, Pella Christian High School Principal, Pella

Frank Spillers, Global Horizons, Atlantic

Jerry Parkin, Iowa State Fair Board, Earlham

Leonard Griffith, Paton-Churdan Community School District Superintendent, Churdan

Katie Byers, Iowa Alliance of Iowa Boys and Girls Clubs, Des Moines

Mick Jurgensen, Rogers Elementary Principal, Marshalltown

Mike Dick, Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, West Des Moines

Mary Hillman, PACES, Perry

Kerry Gumm, Principal Financial Group, Des Moines

Gary Norris, Waterloo Community School District Superintendent, Waterloo

Anita Micich, Mason City Community School District Superintendent, Mason City

Cindi McDonald, Waukee Community School District Associate Superintendent, Waukee

Sandy Klaus, Starmont Community School District Elementary Principal, Arlington

Maureen Tiffany, United Way of Central Iowa, Des Moines

Ex-Officio (non-voting) members of the task force are as follows:

State Rep. Kevin Koester, Ankeny

State Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, Des Moines

Beth Happe, Iowa Department of Education, Des Moines

Fred Kinne, Iowa Department of Education, Des Moines

Isaiah McGee, Iowa Department of Education, Des Moines

Randy Richardson, associate director of the Iowa State Education Association, commented disapprovingly that this task force “only has one teacher and he is retired.” The ISEA is the largest labor union representing Iowa teachers.

I’ll be interested to see what the task force recommends regarding the school calendar. Most education experts consider long summer vacations detrimental to student learning. Earlier this year, Governor Terry Branstad supported and the Iowa House approved a bill that would make it more difficult to start the school year before late August. The bill’s supporters say it would help Iowa’s economy by boosting the tourism industry, but Iowa House Education Committee Chair Greg Forristall called the idea “an embarrassment.” The bill cleared the Iowa House with bipartisan support and opposition; you can find the roll call in the House Journal (pdf). The legislation never made it out of committee in the Iowa Senate.

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