GAO: Some States Experienced Significant NCLB Waiver Problems

gaoSome states had a difficult in implementing programs to improve classroom achievement that were part of the No Child Left Behind waivers that they won from the Education Dept., according to a Government Accountability Office report.

Twelve of of the 43 states with NCLB flexibility waivers faced multiple challenges that affected their ability to fulfill classroom improvement that they promised to win the DoEd waivers from onerous portions of the NCLB law.

Last year, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced the NCLB and removed the most arduous parts of the old federal education law. However, GAO reviewed the waiver process to analyze how DoEd could better implement the waiver process under the ESSA.

The new law specifically prohibits DoEd from requiring states to include specific academic standards in their waiver requests or to use specific academic assessments as a condition of waiver approval, the report said.

Since introducing its flexibility initiative in 2011—inviting states to request a waiver from certain provisions of the NCLB — DoEd monitored states’ efforts and identified challenges to states’ ability to fully implement their waivers. According to GAO’s analysis DoEd used a risk assessment process to document these challenges throughout the waiver approval.

Overseeing states, local districts and schools was particularly challenging for states, according to GAO’s analysis.

For example, Washington state was unable to implement a teacher and principal evaluation and support system that included student learning growth as a significant factor. A state official told auditors they attempted to design a system that would meet the needs of various stakeholders, including teachers, but ultimately the system was not implemented because the state legislature did not approve the changes needed to put the system in place, the report said.

In addition, Arizona officials said state laws and rules from the state board of education limited their ability to implement an accountability system that was consistent with their flexibility waiver request.

The 12 states that faced multiple significant challenges were: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Texas, according to GAO’s analysis.

Some of these states were unable to fully address the challenges Education identified when their waiver was initially approved. For example, DoEd identified risks related to Pennsylvania’s capacity to monitor interventions in “focus schools” prior to approving the state’s flexibility waiver and subsequently found during Part B monitoring (nearly two years later) that the state lacked a plan to conduct such monitoring, according to GAO’s analysis. Pennsylvania officials told auditors that these weaknesses resulted from not documenting how interventions in focus schools were consistent with the state’s plan to improve student achievement in these schools, according to GAO’s analysis.

Many of these states were particularly challenged to develop systems for overseeing local school districts and schools. Specifically, during Part B monitoring, DoEd found that eight of the 12 states identified as facing multiple challenges did not meet expectations regarding systems for monitoring local implementation. According to education officials, many states were not implementing monitoring activities consistent with their approved Flexibility waivers and the key Flexibility principles. For example, Education found that Alabama did not have a formal monitoring mechanism to ensure its interventions in priority schools, focus schools and other Title I schools met the requirements of the Flexibility initiative. New Hampshire did not monitor its districts’ adoption and implementation of college- and career-ready standards, the report said.

The waivers granted under Education’s Flexibility initiative have terminated and states are preparing to develop and implement new Title I plans under the newly reauthorized law, the ESSA. Education continues to develop its oversight and technical assistance strategies for implementing the ESSA, which includes different requirements related to school accountability, among other things. GAO recommended, and DoEd concurred, that the department should use best practices from waiver oversight on the new ESSA waivers, the report said.

Info: (report).

About Frank Klimko

Frank Klimko is a nationally known journalist, grants expert and speech writer/speaker. He has years of experience helping nonprofits devise lists of the right funding opportunities and secure funding from these foundations and corporate entities. Clients have focused on an array of areas including child care, homeless, hunger and K-12 education. Additionally, he is a Freedom of Information Act expert, who has helped numerous clients with securing proprietary information from the federal government. Currently, Frank Klimko writes the Children & Youth Funding Report and Private Grants Alert, which are Washington DC-based publications. CYF is a daily publication covering Congress, the Education Dept. and the various federal regulatory agencies. PGA, another daily publication, covers the world of private philanthropy.
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