MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota will seek a waiver to the federal No Child Left Behind law, Gov. Mark Dayton announced Monday, which would free state schools from some testing requirements and sanctions in the often criticized law.
The announcement came hours after the Obama administration presented its plans to give school districts a break from the law, as long as they pursue education changes backed by the administration.
Dayton, a Democrat, said the waiver would “provide school boards, administrators, teachers, and parents with the flexibility they need to implement the reforms the Legislature and I enacted in the recent session.”
Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said she expected the waiver would most benefit districts now forced to pay for sanctions under the NCLB law by freeing up money to spend on new reforms.
“When you take those dollars away from schools that you are trying to provide some innovation around and support, I think that those dollars can be used to focus our reforms back into those schools,” she said.
For example, she said, without the expensive sanctions of NCLB, struggling Minnesota schools would have more money to spend on new systems for evaluating and improving teachers and principals.
Cassellius said about half of Minnesota school districts have failed to make “adequate yearly progress” as defined by the law in 2009. Of those, she said, 71 districts are facing corrective action.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, corrective action can include requirements to replace staff, implement a new curriculum, extend the school year or hire outside experts to advise the district.
The results of the 2010 NCLB testing haven’t been released, but Cassellius said she expected more Minnesota schools would be labeled as failures when the scores come in later this summer.
She expected the state’s waiver request would be finished by the end of the week and hoped it would be approved in time for the school year that starts this fall.
Tom Dooher, president of Education Minnesota, the state teacher’s union, praised the move. “NCLB has failed our children through an unrealistic fixation on high stakes tests that unfairly labeled talented students and quality schools as failures,” he said.
Rep. Patrick Garofalo, R-Farmington, chairman of the House Education Finance Committee, said the waiver request was a positive step toward giving local educators more control. “We have a long track record of being nation-leading in our education reforms,” he said. “We don’t need the federal government telling us what to do.”
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Monday that President Barack Obama was authorizing him to grant waivers because Congress had failed to act on a comprehensive overhaul of the law.
Minnesota Rep. John Kline, the Republican chairman of the House education committee, has said he was concerned the temporary waivers would undermine efforts for a more thorough and permanent overhaul of the law, but he said Monday he would withhold judgment on the latest plan until the details were released.
“Unfortunately, more questions than answers surround the secretary’s waivers proposal,” he said. “The secretary has a responsibility to explain the steps states and schools will be required to take in exchange for the promised relief.”
Kline’s committee has been working on a series of targeted bills to replace the law. Duncan has been critical of both the pace of the work and some of polices in the bills.
Critics call NCLB’s benchmarks unrealistic and say they brand schools as failures even if they are making progress toward the law’s goal of having every student proficient in math and reading by 2014.
The steady ramping up of requirements has concerned most states and school districts, as an increasing share of schools are labeled as failures because too few of their students are hitting testing targets.
Duncan said the details of the waiver plan would be released next month. He said the administration will encourage every state to apply for a waiver.
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