Statement in Response to NCLB Waivers

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) unfairly labels schools as failing and imposes escalating sanctions that are driven by high-stakes testing mandates.  NCLB also sets an unrealistic timeline and goal for all students to be deemed proficient by 2014, and there is general agreement in Congress that the law is flawed. Yet progress on the reauthorization remains stalled.

Today, the Obama administration outlined its requirements that states must follow in order to receive a waiver from these and other harmful NCLB provisions.  While AFSA agrees with the administration that NCLB is flawed, we believe all students need relief from NCLB’s unfair mandates, not just those that adhere to the conditions and reform policies laid out by the administration.

Under current law, schools that do not meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) are labeled failing and subjected to punitive sanctions.  Granting relief from this ineffective policy is a good first step – however, we caution states in developing their accountability systems – especially how they relate to defining teacher and principal effectiveness.

Any educator evaluation system must be designed in a fair manner, with input from local and state principal groups.  Furthermore, principals must be offered meaningful training in any newly adopted teacher evaluation system, as well as training in other education reform policies. Moving from a test-based system that unfairly evaluates schools, to one that unfairly evaluates educators, would be counterproductive and not in the best interest of schools and the students they serve.

We are also concerned with the proposal regarding low-performing schools, which appears to require states to agree to implement the Department of Education’s four school-turnaround models in the bottom five percent of schools. AFSA opposes these models that are based on an arbitrary percentage and call for the immediate removal of the principal. We believe the principal should be looked to as a key player in implementing school reform initiatives, for they often have a unique understanding of the school’s culture and needs and have deep ties within the community. These are the schools that need the greatest support and training, and should be allowed substantial time to meet clear indicators of progress.

Regarding flexibility in the use of federal funds, we urge states to vigilantly protect funding for the most vulnerable student populations. Low-income and minority students depend on specific federal programs, and any use of these funds other than their intent would be an abdication of the federal role to ensure equal opportunity in education for all.

We are hopeful that, once Congress does act to reauthorize ESEA, the policies implemented under these waivers do not result in any irreparable harm to schools, and most importantly, to the students they serve.