Will Michigan meet Obama's new NCLB relief mandates?

Michigan may have to reapply for a waiver to get relief from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mandate that all students be proficient on state tests by 2014. New waiver request forms are due Nov. 14; approval can be expected as early as January 2012. A second round of waivers is due February 2012.

In July, the state applied for a 10-year waiver, asking that the 100 percent goal of proficiency be lowered to 80 percent. Michigan requested the waivers because the State Board of Education adopted higher standards for passing state exams—a move that the Board believes will mean more students will fail and not meet NCLB guidelines.

Last week President Obama announced states could receive wavers if they agreed to a series of reforms. To qualify, states must have rigorous evaluation systems for teachers and principals; must set high achievement standards that would make students ready for college or a career; and must develop strategies for turning around the low-performing schools.

Citing the law as a barrier to state and local reforms, Obama said states would have to intervene in the bottom 5 percent of schools and then identify another 10 percent of schools with low graduation rates and large achievement gaps. States and school districts could determine how they would use the federal funding for students in schools that don’t meet NCLB standards. To overcome the concern that NCLB was too focused on punishing schools, states must also reward high-scoring schools.

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan was at the White House for Obama’s announcement and said, “Michigan is a national leader in setting high standards that reflect the direction the President outlined. I’m confident that this new flexibility will allow our schools to continue to improve for the success of all students.”

Even though Michigan has already adopted higher standards for state exams and a state commission is working on drafting new evaluation guidelines, it remains to be seen if it’s enough to make the state eligible for a waiver. Education associations and other stakeholders must be involved in the development of the waiver request and the state must provide assurance that it has consulted with these groups. Given the current attacks on public school employees and their unions—could this be the requirement that sinks a waiver request?

Details of the waiver application process can be found at http://www.ed.gov/esea/flexibility. The application requirements are at  http://www.ed.gov/esea/flexibility/documents/esea-flexibility-request.doc.  The cover letter to chief state school officers is at http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/secletter/110923.html.