Duncan and Cerf: NCLB Waivers

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About an hour ago U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan joined NJ Education Commissioner Chris Cerf and Delaware Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery for a bit of Q & A on the federal offer for waivers on No Child Left Behind. States may apply for waivers if they demonstrate commitment to implementing the reform tenets imbedded in Race To The Top: tenure reform, tying teaching evaluations to student growth, turning around persistently failing schools.

NJ is applying, and Sec. Duncan confirmed that we’ll get $28 million in RTTT funds by the end of the year, given our almost-a-winner status and good intentions. It’s really a drop in the bucket – to put $28 million in context, it’s a little more than a tenth of Trenton Public Schools annual operating budget – but, hey, we’ll take it.

Comm. Cerf congratulated the Secretary and President Obama on their ability to “convert a moment of Washington gridlock” – the House and Senate’s failure to pass a reauthorization of NCLB – into a “transformative” narrative. While, Cerf said, NCLB has succeeded in “unmasking the reality that many subgroups are not doing as well” as their peers, there are “deep problems with NCLB,” like a dumbing-down of standards in order to inflate student test scores and the labeling “of school after school as failing in a completely binary fashion.”

In order to receive the waiver, NJ will submit an accountability system “that is an improved version of NCLB.” The focus will be on the bottom 5% of schools, with the DOE moving more aggressively to implement school turn-arounds.

Sec. Duncan was asked if he thought that NJ had enough buy-in from teachers in order for NJ to successfully implement reforms. He replied, “I don’t think these things are ever fully resolved. NJ was once in an adversarial relationship with unions” but things are “much improved.” These things move in “fits and starts,” and “NJ is working in the right direction.” Comm. Cerf expressed optimism that the State Legislature would pass tenure reform legislation.

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