OSSE Requests NCLB Waiver

Dorothy Rowley | 3/28/2012, 10:23 a.m.

As the deadline approaches for states to prove student proficiency in reading and math, a majority of them have figured out that they still won't make the grade by 2014 with the federally-mandated No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act requirements.

To that end, those states as well as the District of Columbia, have applied for a waiver that would give them flexibility to oversee, administer and improve their outcomes for the academic success of students.

"I know that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education [OSSE] is trying to get a waiver," said D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown (D), a staunch supporter of the District's public education initiatives. However, in light of assertions across the country that NCLB doesn't work, Brown - who recently received the Council's approval on an education bill he crafted - said that to some extent, the mandate has been effective in the District.

"There have been both some good things and questionable things surrounding the initiative," Brown, 41, said. "And that's why the waiver is being requested - because of the questionable things."

But the Council chairman was quick to note the differences between his legislation and NCLB.

"My education reform bill stands on its own two feet," Brown said. "While its mandates include raising performance levels of students and rewarding exceptional teachers, it's so much different than NCLB," in that its main focus is on preparing students for education beyond high school.

Brown further stated that while concerns about NCLB have been raised throughout the country, the District has had to grapple with "certain parts" of the mandate that was initially passed during President Lyndon Johnson's administration as the "Elementary and Secondary Education Act." Decades later, and after having achieved bipartisan support, Johnson's legislation was revamped and eventually enacted by Congress in 2001 under President George W. Bush.

"But the real question now has been how do we ensure that every child has a fair shot, that every child has access to a quality education and is learning," Brown said of NCLB.

"OSSE is trying to waive out some of the requirements and give D.C. the opportunity to move forward in that aspect," he said. "I think that at some point everyone knew that there would be concerns with NCLB, and that at some point those concerns would have to be addressed."

To gauge its effectiveness, NCLB has been up for renewal every year since 2007. While the Act does not establish a national achievement standard, it does allow standards to be set by each individual state.

As a result, more states are jumping on the bandwagon and stepping away from NCLB.

Cathy Reilly, an associate with the District-based Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators, which advocates on behalf of District of Columbia high schools, said certain things have to occur to get a waiver.

"[In order to request] a waiver, they had to promise to do other things - to sign onto other requirements - because that's part of it, [including] the bonuses for teachers and more charter schools."