The Parnell Administration has let pass an opportunity to get waivers from parts of the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001. The federal standards that accompany the law have drawn criticism in Alaska — particularly in rural school districts that are not able to provide staff and services needed.
President Obama offered states the opportunity to apply for waivers back in September, and so far, 39 states have said they want to be relieved of some of the requirements. Part of the waiver process requires that the states present alternative ways of showing student achievement.
Deputy Commissioner of Education Les Morse says Alaska’s decision not to apply for relief is not an indication that the administration will not apply for exemptions at the time of the final deadline next year. He says the department is taking a more inclusive approach – and there are ideas for changes under consideration now.
“Our intent would be to lay out some ideas that would work, put them to print, actually test them against the data that we have to see what would be the impact on schools. If we get to a stage where we feel we’re pretty comfortable with things then we’ll want to include stakeholders, we’ll want to include school district superintendents and principals and teachers and other policy makers in looking at what it would look like before we take the step to put it forward to the U.S. Department of Education,” Morse said.
Morse says the department’s cautious approach will not likely need more change in the future. And, it will give Alaska the chance to see proposals from other states as well.
The No Child Left Behind standards have drawn criticism from educators since it originally became law. Barbara Angaiak is president of the National Education Association – Alaska. She points to several elements that have proven to be unworkable in Alaska. She says some school districts are too small to have highly qualified teachers in all subjects – another fault can cause a school to fail its test for Adequate Yearly Progress because of too many absentees when the test is given – still another is the federal requirement’s heavy emphasis on standardized testing as the means to rate a school. She says there are aspects to the federal law that present problems for every school in the country.
“It doesn’t really matter what type of school it is because the requirements are very difficult to handle. And some of it is so intrusive that we have too many schools where the focus has become meeting adequate yearly program and making sure that meeting standardized test results show what we want them to show rather than really being interested in what’s happening with student learning and student achievement,” Angaiak said.
Legislators also see getting waivers as a step the state needs to take. Anchorage Democrat Les Gara says he hoped to see an application for waivers from Alaska – as other states have done.
“I hope they opt out of as many of the non-productive provisions as possible. I’m a little disappointed, but I hope they do eventually opt out of the more onerous provisions of the law,” Gara said.
The U.S. Department of Education has announced a final deadline for states to apply for waivers from the law in mid-February of next year.