Minot Public Schools Supt. Mark Vollmer said it will be business as usual for the school district even if the federal government grants the state more flexibility in meeting the requirements of No Child Left Behind.
"This is another chapter. Whether we have No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top, the Minot Public Schools are dedicated to enhancing and improving student performance," said Vollmer. "We want to make sure kids get better."
The state department of public instruction submitted the flexibility waiver application to the U.S. Department of Education this month. Other states have also submitted waiver requests since the U.S. Department of Education offered the waiver opportunity last year. North Dakota's application underwent 11 months of review before it was submitted.
"I believe it is time for us as a state to move past current education accountability rules and toward a more balanced approach to supporting meaningful education reforms that better reflect our values," said State Supt. of Public Instruction Wayne Sanstead in a press release. "... Our state's waiver application appropriately redirects federally prescribed rules toward locally designed solutions that embrace the voice of educators and citizens from across our state."
If North Dakota's application is granted, the waiver would ease some of the requirements of the decade-old law, which was intended to improve student achievement. The law requires that schools that fail to demonstrate continued improvement face penalties such as setting aside a portion of their Title I funding for "program improvement" or, in later years, replacing a curriculum or instituting drastic changes such as hiring new administrators or teachers. Some states have been allowed to alter the provisions somewhat. North Dakota's alternative governance provisions have enabled schools in "program improvement" to choose options such as offering a signing bonus to new teachers, allowing school choice across district boundaries, hiring an outside consultant, defer administrative funds to affected schools or some other form of restructuring as defined by the school district.
The waiver would allow more flexibility, but Vollmer said it won't change many of the things the district has done to improve student achievement. Students will still participate in testing and academic programs intended to help students achieve more will continue.
The state would put in place its own model to ensure that students continue learning. "We will be looking at more of a growth model in regard to how we're progressing," Vollmer said. Schools would have to show continued educational progress on the state's standardized tests, for instance, but wouldn't necessarily be required to have a certain percentage of kids hit a target in order to avoid a penalty.
Vollmer said he understands that the proposed system would enable DPI to work individually with schools that are struggling the bottom 5 percent of Title I schools with a high percentage of kids receiving free and reduced price lunches and an additional 10 percent of Title I schools with the highest percentage of kids in certain target groups who fail to make adequate progress. The tests measure the progress of children with disabilities, children from low-income families, children from minority groups, and children who speak English as a second language.
Schools and school districts that are currently required to set aside a portion of their Title I funding for program improvement would be able to redirect those funds towards other areas and have more control over how to spend the money.
The state would continue to follow other goals to improve student performance, sch as putting in place new academic content standards in English and mathematics by the 2014-2015 school year and develop state teacher and principal evaluation guidelines and assist local school districts to adopt either existing or locally developed evaluation models aligned to professional education standards.
The flexibility waiver application went through an 11-month review at the state level before it was submitted to the U.S. Department of Education. The U.S. Department of Education will review the state's plan and decide this fall whether to approve it. If approved, it would go into effect for the 2013-2014 school year.