San Francisco Schools get waiver from No Child Left Behind

Eight California school districts including San Francisco have been granted unprecedented waivers to stray from the proficiency standards set by No Child Left Behind and instead create their own oversight to prepare all students for college and careers after high school.

The U.S. Department of Education announced it would grant the one-year waiver to a list of school districts that also includes Oakland, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Long Beach, Fresno, Sanger and Santa Ana, which educate roughly 1 million students.

“It’s a historic day for us,” said Richard Carranza, superintendent for San Francisco Unified School District. “We’re moving from the punitive, name-calling culture of NCLB where a school is a failure and another makes [Adequate Yearly Progress] and instead moving to a paradigm to build capacity based on expertise.”

The waivers allow these districts to develop their own accountability systems to track students and ensure they are ready for college or a career. This new model will reward success rather than punish those schools that do not meet requirements.

For example, instead of basing student performance solely on tests, now 60 percent of that standard will be based on academic performance, 20 percent will be on social-emotional factors, including attendance and non-cognitive skills, and another 20 percent on culture, such as parent and teacher surveys.

“We don’t want to talk about gaps, we know that they exist,” said Mike Hanson, superintendent of the Fresno Unified School District. “We want to be measured on eliminating them.”

Superintendents in each of the eight schools say the model pushes them toward more accountability instead of farther away, as some critics have said. The waiver requires an oversight board to meet and review districts progress. That board will consist of 14 members, according to Rick Miller, executive director for the California Office to Reform Education, which the eight districts are a part of. The board will include members with backgrounds in education and civil rights and will meet publicly twice a year to review how the districts are doing.

An estimated 150,000 students throughout the eight participating districts also will now be tracked under the new accountability model because it require districts better track minority and low-income students.

School districts currently do not need to track any specific groups, such as African Americans, English language learners or special education students, at school where they number fewer than 100. Now, districts will have to track such populations if they number more than 20 at any given school.

“A very large numbers of students are now being tracked and we’re being held accountable for their performance,” said Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy. “That’s one hallmarks of the strengths of this proposal.”

The waiver also will free up millions of dollars for districts to use how they see fit. Under the current standards, the money received through funding known as Title 1 needed to be used for private tutors and contractors to help struggling students. In the future, districts can use that money to train teachers or design specific interventions for underserved students.

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