The Los Angeles Unified School District and seven other California districts have been granted a waiver from some of the harsh requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, the federal Department of Education announced on Tuesday.
The waiver goes into effect immediately, just days before school starts, saving the districts a combined $150 million that they would have had to spend on tutoring and other help to failing schools.
"Back of an envelope, this is between $60 and 80 million that will be able to be redirected straight to the schools and to the youth who get to work with their amazing and brilliant teachers who know them the best," said L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy.
The districts receiving the waiver are the Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Sanger, and Santa Ana Unified School Districts.
The No Child Left Behind Act mandates that schools bring all students to proficiency in Math and English by 2014 or face harsh penalties, including possible closure.
Few schools are expected to meet that goal. Since 2011, the Obama Administration has been granting waivers to states if they agreed to certain reforms. The government has granted waivers to 39 states and the District of Columbia.
Tuesday’s announcement marks the first and only time that the federal government granted the waiver to a stand-alone set of school districts. The waiver is good for one year, after which it’ll go up for renewal.
“We’re not taking this on, because it’s simple. We’re taking it on, simply because it’s the right thing to do for more than a million students that those districts collectively serve,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a conference call with members of the media.
California had applied for a waiver, but was rejected in January, in part because it did not include provisions to connect teacher evaluations with student standardized test scores. State officials said they would not reapply.
That prompted school districts within the state to join together and submit their own application. The districts are part of a collaboration called the California Office to Reform Education.
Teachers unions for the districts oppose the waiver.
“By approving this waiver, Secretary Duncan once again demonstrates how his rhetoric that educators be actively involved in education change is just that—rhetoric,” Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association, said in a written statement. “Not one of the local teachers’ associations in the eight school districts was included in the discussion or signed the waiver application.”
Under the terms of the application, districts agreed to judge school performance based on several factors. Test scores will account for about a quarter of the evaluation. Other factors include graduation rates, suspensions, reclassification of English Language Learners and surveys of students, parents and staff.
Throughout the application process, the collaboration has said it would welcome other districts that agree to abide by the terms.
However, Duncan effectively shut that down Tuesday, saying no new districts will be allowed to sign on this year.