In the first action of its kind, the Obama administration granted No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers to eight California districts, allowing them to set up their own accountability system and to police themselves through their own board of directors.
The eight districts (Fresno Unified, Long Beach Unified, Los Angeles Unified, Oakland Unified, Sacramento City Unified, San Francisco Unified, Sanger Unified, and Santa Ana Unified), serving 1 million students, joined a consortium called the California Office to Reform Education (CORE). In taking this action, the U.S. Department of Education recognized a new educational legal entity, outside of the state’s systems of districts. As a separate, eligible legal entity, CORE could apply for the waiver on its own behalf.
Until now, states have been the only entities to receive the “No Child Left Behind” waivers announced by President Barack Obama in 2011. There were strings attached, such as implementing teacher evaluation systems linked to student test scores. In exchange, states were relieved of key requirements of NCLB, such as that schools bring all students to proficiency in reading and math by the end of the 2013-14 school year.
All schools certainly deserve relief from the unreasonable one-size-fits-all requirements and sanctions of NCLB, but from a statewide perspective, CTA has two major concerns with these NCLB waivers.
- Educators were excluded from the process.
- School districts can operate outside the accountability of the California Department of Education.
“Excluding educators and their unions from the entire process is simply not how you go about transforming public schools,” says CTA President Dean E. Vogel.
“You don’t deliberately exclude the people who are working with students every day and then as an afterthought say, ‘Hey teachers, attend a meeting so we can explain the plan to you.’ That approach tells educators their input isn’t important or needed, and that is certainly not how you bring people together to do what’s best for students.”
CTA was supposedly appointed to some “pseudo oversight committee,” Vogel adds, “but no one asked us about it or even told us we were in the proposal. It’s just really disappointing that the U.S. Secretary of Education plays this loose with children’s future, and it shows that his rhetoric about the importance of involving teachers in education decisions is just that, rhetoric.”
“It’s really a slap in the face to not be consulted and to not be part of such a dramatic change,” says Sacramento City Teachers Association President Nikki Milevsky. She notes that Common Core implementation and the state’s new accountability rules tied to changes in the student funding formula are already having major implications for teachers.
“Those are huge changes that can create a lot of good for students,” she says, “yet now we’re going to be distracted by chasing flexibility for money that’s already there.”