The state is asking the Obama Administration for waivers from the national standards set by the No Child Left Behind Act. The act went into effect during 2001 and has drawn bipartisan criticism for demanding a one-size-fits-all standard for Alaskans. Fairbanks Democrat Bob Miller, who led an unsuccessful legislative effort to try to get relief from the standards says it doesn’t accommodate the state’s geographic or economic diversity.
People from the rest of the lower-48, they may mean well, and it might be a nice plan on paper but when you try to put it into practical application in Alaska where you have a large city like Anchorage and you also have a little rural village, there’s no practical way that you can institute those same standards and those same criteria for teachers and so forth, as you do in Prince George’s County Maryland. It’s just not doable.
The waiver application will be supported by new standards devised by Alaska and – if approved at the federal level will mean individual schools will no longer be given a federal grade – called Annual Yearly Progress. Student proficiency targets and identification of schools that need improvement would be eliminated under the waivers. Alaska will also set up its own system for accountability that the U-S Department of Education must accept as meeting the national quality principles.
Education Commissioner Mike Hanley says the standards will change , not reduce, for Alaska – and it is separate from the waivers.
We’ve been working on our standards for the last two years – long before waivers were ever discussed. They came together at the same time, but we didn’t develop our standards so we could apply for a waiver. We developed our standards to increase the bar for our children and to raise expectations and help them be more successful.
Miller says he has no detail on what the new standards will be, but he is very pleased to see the work being done.
Just the fact that the new core standards are being designed in Alaska by Alaskans for Alaska schools gives me hope.
Hanley says the waivers will allow more flexibility that will be quickly felt in many schools. But he says that schools will still be accountable for the education they provide. Instead of current standards that fail an school entirely if it does not meet and of the thirty-one federal requirements, the state system will be directed at the total quality of the educational package – asking the question, “are the kids advancing in the right direction?”
That would be a model that will work for everybody. It’s where you are now and are you moving in the right direction, so that way you get to compare yourself with where you were the year before and the year before that. I guess you could compare school to school across the state, but when we start looking at accountability we want you to be able to compare yourself with where you are and where you’re going.
Hanley says the formal application for the waivers with the federal government will be submitted by September 6th.