Athens Review, Athens, Texas

August 27, 2013

Study: Waivers leave behind at-risk students

Education Department’s exceptions are creating a patchwork of rules, lack of support

Associated Press
The Athens Review

Athens — WASHINGTON — Millions of at-risk students could fall through the cracks as the Education Department gives states permission to ignore parts of No Child Left Behind, according to a study education advocates released Tuesday.

The Education Department has been giving some states waivers from the education law's requirements, including those to collect and publish data about students and then use the results to pinpoint problem schools. The resulting patchwork of rules — from Miami to Seattle — has given states more freedom to carry out plans to boost education but has allowed almost 2,300 schools to shed their label of seriously troubled, according to numbers compiled at the Campaign for High School Equity.

“It appears to us that waivers could lead to fewer students of color receiving the support they need,” said Rufina Hernandez, executive director for the Campaign for High School Equity.

Her coalition of education reformers, civil rights activists and policy analysts studied the 34 states and the District of Columbia that had received waivers from No Child Left Behind before April.

Since then, another six states and a collection of individual districts in California have won waivers. Illinois, Iowa, Texas and Wyoming are still waiting for Education Secretary Arnie Duncan's verdict for their applications.

The results show students who are at the highest risk of dropping out — those from poor families, students whose native language is not English, those with learning disabilities and minority students — are often no longer tracked as carefully as they were before Duncan began exempting states from some requirements if they promised to better prepare their students for college or careers.

An Education Department spokesman declined to comment on the report.

For his part, Duncan has said the existing law does not allow school leaders to use common sense to determine what schools are failing and which are statistical anomalies. That lack of flexibility, Duncan has told lawmakers, has forced states to target too many schools.

Duncan has been vocal in calling for a replacement to No Child Left Behind that would render his waivers moot.

Under the original No Child Left Behind, schools that failed to teach at-risk students would be flagged if one group wasn't keeping pace. If one of the subgroups failed to meet its performance targets for two consecutive years, officials were required to stage an intervention to turn the entire school around.

But the advocates' review finds those in-depth reporting requirements have fallen by the wayside under the waivers. An intervention is no longer automatically triggered in as many as 19 states, meaning those efforts that once were at the center of the law are now optional. In 16 states, student groups are lumped together and treated as one bloc of at-risk pupils, essentially scrapping the reporting of at-risk groups by label.