The U.S. Department of Education has granted eight large urban school districts in California an unprecedented waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act, leaving them the flexibility to set their own standards on measuring student success by reducing the emphasis on standardized tests.
The districts — including Los Angeles and San Francisco — will also have more freedom to decide how to spend some $150 million in federal funds, reports Politico
No Child Left Behind, signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002, set conditions and requirements for every public school receiving federal funds to educate poor students and students with special needs.
This is the first time the Obama administration, which has already granted waivers to 39 states and the District of Columbia
, has exempted individual school districts from the federal education law's requirements, bypassing state governments.
"We're going directly to the districts, not to the state, and frankly working directly with districts wasn't an easy decision," Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters Tuesday.
"We're not taking this on because it's simple. We're taking it on because it's the right thing to do for more than a million students."
The eight districts, which have joined forces as a nonprofit organization called the California Office to Reform Education, or CORE, to implement the waivers, represent about 20 percent of the state's student population, or 1.1 million students.
Many critics, including several prominent Republicans, have opposed the move, arguing that it will undermine the state's ability to hold schools accountable for students' progress.
"As if state waivers weren't convoluted enough, the administration has now decided to move forward with district-level waivers," said Minnesota Republican Rep. John Kline, chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
"One can only imagine the confusion this creates for families, teachers, and state and local education leaders."
The nonpartisan organization that represents state education officials has also criticized the plan, reports The Washington Post
"This is a pretty troubling development," said Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, adding: "The states have always traditionally been in control of accountability for most school districts. ... The idea that the secretary of education is controlling the accountability system in eight districts in California is kind of mind-boggling."
Duncan reportedly rejected California's bid for a waiver because the state refused to use student test scores to evaluate teachers, which the eight California districts agreed to do.
In addition to Los Angeles and San Francisco, the other California school districts granted waivers are Fresno, Long Beach, Oakland, Sacramento, Sanger, and Santa Ana.
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