Putting Education Reform To The Test

Five Changes To Expect From Florida’s ‘No Child’ Waiver

Brendan Hoffman / Getty News Images

President Barack Obama shakes hands after a White House event announcing No Child Left Behind waivers.

So you’ve just been granted a waiver by the U.S. Department of Education — congrats on being one of the lucky 10. You’re ready to take your first steps toward Leaving No Child Left Behind, well, behind!

But what does the waiver mean? How will it change things for Florida schools, students and parents?

Here’s what education leaders say to expect following today’s announcement.

1) Tougher standards — Florida has already raised Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test reading standards, and promised to include more student subgroups in its school and district grading system.

That means poor children, students with disabilities and those learning English could have to meet standards they did not before.

Florida’s goal is test scores in the top five of U.S. state and in the top 10 in the world. Also in the wings is former Gov. Jeb Bush — Florida’s education godfather — who is a big advocate for raising standards.

2) Focus on progress, not scores — No longer will it be enough for students to score well on the standardized tests that form the basis of Florida’s grading system. Now, students will also have to show they are improving from one year to the next.

That improvement will be compared against statistical models that project how much the students should be improving.

3) Simplified school assessments — Under the old system a school could earn an ‘A’ based on Florida’s report card, but fail to meet No Child Left Behind standards.

Now there will be just one assessment — an A to F grade. This is the benefits Florida education officials have touted the most.

4) More state control — No Child Left Behind marked a significant increase in the federal government’s involvement in setting state education policy. Critics contend the law set rigid, once-size-fits-all rules for states.

The waivers don’t eliminate the federal role — they will still ensure states are adhering to the plans presented in their waiver applications, and that those plans are working. However, states now have more ability to choose options that work best for them.

5) No federal penalties — No Child Left Behind requires students prove they are at grade level or above, known as proficiency. The law then raises the requirements for the percentage of student demonstrating proficiency each year, until every student must be at grade level or above.

The law also breaks out subgroups of students, such as those learning English as a second language, and applies the same standards.

School officials have called the standards unreasonable, but they faced real consequences for what they believed was inevitable failure.

Florida will have more say when those penalties, such as replacing principals and staff or having an outside company take over the school, kick in.

The decision is not without disagreement though, so we present the criticisms of The Fordham Institute’s Michael Petrilli. Petrilli has said the waivers give the illusion of flexibility:

But as the news settles in over the next few days, don’t expect the reactions to be entirely positive, for it appears that the President and his education secretary have reneged on their promise of true “flexibility” for the states. Mostly what they seem to have done is substitute one set of rigid prescriptions for another.


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