This afternoon Governor Malloy and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that Connecticut will receive a waiver exempting Connecticut from fulfilling some of the mandates under No Child Left Behind (reauthorization of ESEA). NCLB has become increasingly unpopular as it exhorts educators to teach to the test, thus reducing time spent teaching material not included on standardized tests. The curriculum has increasingly narrowed to focus on STEM and basic literacy. Instructors in higher education have noticed a reduction in critical thinking abilities since the implementation of NCLB. Additionally, the federal mandate labels schools as “failing.” Schools falling under this category are pressured to be shut down, redesigned, and reopened; some have interpreted this underfunded mandate as an attempt to privatize education, as charter schools open in place of some “failed” public schools.
According to data gathered by the U.S. Department of Education, “67% of [Connecticut's] superintendents believe the state’s formulas for funding education [were] unfair or very unfair” previous to the granting of this waiver.
On the surface, this waiver frees Connecticut — with 47% of its schools not meeting goals imposed by the federal government — from a wrongheaded requirement. The waiver acknowledges that the goal of getting 100% of students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014 is unreasonable.
It would seem that this waiver returns autonomy to Connecticut; however, states receiving waivers need to demonstrate that ” they will prepare children for college and careers, set new targets for improving achievement among all students, reward the best performing schools and focus help on the ones doing the worst,” writes the Associated Press.
According to the U.S. Department of Education,” to capture more schools in the accountability system, Connecticut has reduced from 40 to 20 the minimum number of students necessary for individual subgroup performance to be considered. This will increase the number of schools accountable for African American students from 280 to 414, for Hispanic students from 356 to 548, students with disabilities from 276 to 683, English Learners from 97 to 209, and free and reduced priced lunch students from 757 to 928.” It would seem that more schools across Connecticut will get to experience the pressure faced by those in urban areas. Connecticut Voices for Children, a New Haven-based think tank, challenges what this change in accountability means:
Districts and schools with higher test scores and SPI [School Performance Index] ratings could be predicted to be schools with greater proportions of white, native English speakers, and relatively more affluent students given these students’ historic performance, on average, on the standard CMT when measured in absolute levels. Because of their higher SPI ratings, these schools would have fewer mandates, and they would not be subject to increased test-based accountability measures, school takeover, state-mandated operation by private or semi-public organizations, and/or conditional funding of new, additional ECS grant funds.
At a glance, the waiver promises that Connecticut schools will return to providing children with a well-rounded education: “Connecticut will be holding schools accountable for student performance in writing and science, in addition to English language arts and math,” writes the U.S. Department of Education. Analysis done by Connecticut Voices for Children “suggests that if Connecticut’s waiver is granted standardized tests will take on even greater importance in the state than under No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. For instance, the results of the science tests would be included in school and district ratings. Previously only math, reading, and writing standardized test data were used for management purposes.”
Connecticut joins Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island in receiving this waiver today; previously, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Tennessee had been granted the waiver, which is viewed as a stopgap measure until Congress shows political will by revising ESEA/NCLB.