The ESEA accountability landscape across the county is about to shift again – but not because Congress has come to agreement on ESEA. Due to Congress’ lack of progress on the long overdue ESEA reauthorization, the U.S. Department of Education is instead taking steps to extend the flexibility it has provided states in holding schools accountable for student achievement. The first two rounds of states that that had their waivers approved have been invited to begin the renewal application process. Thirty-five states were approved in those rounds and are set to see their flexibility expire.
The U.S. Department of Education has released guidance for the renewal of ESEA waivers, and it isn’t as straightforward as many would have liked. In addition to requiring that states demonstrate that they are fulfilling the commitments made in their approved waiver plan, there are several new requirements they must address in their application related to teacher quality and the distribution of effective teachers.
The Department is also using the renewal process to address concerns with perceived accountability loopholes under the current waiver process. To look more closely at how school accountability has played out in states with waivers, the Department is examining state achievement and graduation rate data, as well as whether schools are being held accountable for the achievement of all students.
If the data indicates that a state’s accountability system is not identifying low-performing schools and subgroups appropriately, the Department “will work with the [state] to determine if there is any misidentification or under-identification of schools” and figure out why. The Department will provide states with this data in October.
While many states may want to stick with their current accountability plans, the Department’s findings and new requirements may require them to make changes. Now is the time to get involved in providing input into your state’s renewal application, as they are due as early as January 2, 2014, depending on which phase a state chooses to submit their application.
Ultimately, the National Alliance would rather see ESEA reformed and reauthorized, eliminating the need for waivers. Congress should see this complicated, convoluted, state-by-state waiver renewal process as another reason to reform the underlying statute governing school accountability as quickly as possible.
Christine Wolfe is a senior policy advisor at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.