Federal government grants waiver to certain No Child Left Behind Act mandates …



HARTFORD — Connecticut’s application for a waiver from certain mandates imposed by the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act has been approved, officials said Tuesday.

The waiver, which grants states greater flexibility for implementing school reforms, comes just weeks after Governor Dannel Malloy and legislative leaders reached an agreement to begin fixing what’s broken in Connecticut’s public schools.

State Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington, called the waiver “good news for Connecticut.”

“Sitting on the state education committee, and fighting the fight we’ve had for the last four months and knowing that one of the goals was to get this waiver — something we haven’t been able to successfully achieve in the past — is a step in the right direction,” Cook said on Tuesday night. “We recognize we have an achievement gap, and we need to shrink it, while at the same time keeping education for every single child in the forefront.”

Good news for Connecticut

The NCLB Waiver, among other things, will ensure that Connecticut:

* has greater flexibility with Federal Title 1 dollars, meaning that the state can now use that money to fund programs and reform models that are right for Connecticut and gets it to the students who need it;

* avoids a situation where nearly half of the state’s public schools would have been deemed “failing” – setting in motion massive restructuring and possibly even school closures; and

* creates a system that more accurately measures student achievement across all levels.

“Receiving a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act will ensure that Connecticut has the flexibility to implement a reform plan that fits our state, one that is not bound strictly by federal mandates,” Malloy said in a statement. “For years, while other states implemented education reform plans, Connecticut stuck to the old way of doing things and many of our students suffered for it. But the debate we had over the last few months sent a powerful message – that we were finally serious about turning around struggling schools.”

Now that a reform plan is in place, Connecticut will begin working in earnest to close the nation’s largest achievement gap, Malloy said.

“I want to commend Connecticut for demonstrating real courage that made it one of the leading states in this round of plans,” United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “Connecticut’s plan to adopt college and career-ready standards, elevate and support teachers, and focus resources in order to close the achievement gap will include hundreds more schools and thousands more children who were invisible under NCLB. Connecticut’s hard work and collaboration show that state and local leaders are ready to lead the way in education reform.”

Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said this waiver application captures the education reform activities Connecticut is genuinely and vigorously in the process of pursuing.

“From Common Core implementation to low performing school turnaround to educator evaluation, we were able to convey Connecticut’s authentic agenda in our presentation to the federal Education Department,” he said. “We’re proud that our state’s application has been approved and we’re very grateful for the flexibility Secretary Duncan is enabling us to exercise in pursuit of our Connecticut agenda. After too many years of failing to secure significant federal approvals for our education work here in Connecticut, we are finally entering an era of strong state/federal partnership regarding the strengthening of our schools.”

The state’s education committee is scheduled to meet again on June 12 for a special session. Cook did not know if the committee would be required to take further action now that the waiver for No Child Left Behind mandates had been approved.

“We’re technicall done — the session is over,” she said. “Because it’s a waiver, we might not have to do anthing. But they could call us in at any time.”

NCLB requires a series of sanctions for schools that do not achieve 100 percent student proficiency on standardized assessments by 2014. Connecticut’s waiver establishes a new, more comprehensive system of measuring student academic achievement and progress across all performance bands; adds writing and science assessments to the accountability system; and holds high schools accountable for graduation rates in addition to test scores.

This system will inform schools’ eligibility for the Commissioner’s Network and will inform Alliance Districts’ work with schools of varying performance levels.

Connecticut’s waiver calls for implementation of the Common Core State Standards and new assessments aligned to those standards in 2014-15; authorization of intensive interventions and supports necessary to turn around Connecticut’s lowest performing schools and districts; a new, enhanced system of teacher and principal evaluation and support; and reduction of red tape and undue administrative burdens placed on districts.

All of these initiatives, set forth as guiding principles for education reform by Malloy in December, were affirmed or enhanced with passage of Senate Bill 458, An Act Concerning Educational Reform, which was signed into law by Malloy on May 14. Cook noted that the waiver for the No Child Left Behind Act would allow education authorities to use Title I funding with more flexibility.

“We can utilize dollars more than we were able to before,” she said. “What the state commissioner of education and the state Board of Education will do, exactly — we’ll have to wait for that. It’s not something where I can definitively say ‘We’re going to do this, and we’re going to do that.’ It depends on the school district, and the schools themselves. Every school system is unique in its own needs, and every school in every school district is unique.”

As an example, Cook pointed to three of Torrington’s schools — Forbes, Torringford and Southeast — which use Title I funding for special education.

“Whatever is done, it’s got to be about the child and about education. Every child learns differently from the next,” she said.

Emily M. Olson contributed to this story.

(CORRECTION: The original headline for this story indicated the waiver was granted by the state. It was, in fact, granted by the federal government.)

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