News Column

California Cities Get No Child Left Behind Waivers

August 7, 2013

Jill Tucker

concerned student

School districts in San Francisco, Oakland and six other California cities were granted at least a one-year reprieve from the stringent requirements and severe sanctions of the federal No Child Left Behind law Tuesday, a waiver otherwise given only to states.

The waiver, granted by the Obama administration, means the districts will no longer be required to label low-performing schools as failures and require that they make staffing or other changes in hopes of boosting test scores.

San Francisco and Oakland applied for the waiver as part of a consortium that also includes Los Angeles, Long Beach, Fresno, Sacramento, Santa Ana and Sanger (Fresno County). Together they represent nearly 1 million students, an enrollment that surpasses that of many individual states.

In return for the waiver, the districts promised to evaluate schools, teachers and principals using a wide range of measures including test scores, suspension rates, attendance and graduation rates. Those measures would then be used to identify needy schools and improve them rather than punish them.

The waiver gives districts more flexibility over how to spend federal funds, especially those to help low-income children. Under No Child Left Behind, failing schools are forced to provide tutoring to students, and parents can choose from a list of public or private tutoring services.

With the waiver, the districts can spend the money on any kind of service for low-income students.

Instead of state and federal oversight, the eight districts will now police themselves and each other, holding the entire system accountable for student learning and success. They will evaluate schools based on improvements in test scores, dropout rates and graduation rates, along with suspension and expulsion totals, among other criteria.

In San Francisco, the waiver will free up at least $700,000 that had to be spent on tutors or letters to parents about their "failing" school, said Superintendent Richard Carranza. In addition, teachers will no longer have to focus on what's tested each spring, Carranza said.

No Child Left Behind "meant you were a failure or not based on your English and math scores," he said. "So guess what? Welcome to science, welcome to social studies, music and art.

"It all counts now."

Most states have waivers from No Child Left Behind. California, however, declined to apply for a waiver because teachers unions opposed a federal stipulation that a teacher's job performance be judged using student test scores. The eight districts will have to guarantee that they will do that by 2014 to extend the waiver beyond this coming school year, said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

That might be an uphill battle.

"Not one of the local teachers associations in the eight school districts was included in the discussion or signed the waiver application," said Dean Vogel, California Teachers Association president.

What's more, he said, the waiver "sets up a new bureaucratic system to oversee the eight districts and creates a new accountability system for schools and students in these districts. This will create confusion for educators, students and parents."

Jill Tucker is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: jtucker@sfchronicle.com

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Source: Copyright 1SF 2013