Monday May 28, 2012

HOWARD WEISS-TISMAN

Brattleboro Reformer

BRATTLEBORO -- Vermont has decided to drop its request to the U.S. Department of Education for flexibility in enacting key provisions of the No Child Left Behind law.

With Congress unwilling to tackle the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, President Obama last year said that his administration would allow states to apply for a waiver which would give states flexibility in how they meet the strict requirements of No Child Left Behind.

Vermont was one of 37 states to seek the waiver, but last month the U.S. Department of Education said Vermont needed to provide more information to the federal agency before it would be allowed to ease up on the NCLB requirements.

At the State Board of Education meeting this month the board voted unanimously to drop its request.

Vermont originally assumed that it would be able to create its own measurements for progress and teacher qualifications, but State Board of Education Chairman Stephan Morse said it became apparent that even with the waiver, many of the same restrictions would be in place.

Morse said after the federal Department of Education said it wanted more information, the State Board decided that it was not worth all of the work to proceed.

"There was no room to do much of anything under the waiver. All of the requirements of No Child Left Behind remained in place," Morse said Thursday. "In my opinion it is not accurate to call it a waiver."

In an April 17 letter to Commissioner Armando Vilaseca, the U.S. Education Department said Vermont's waiver application lacked "Detail regarding Vermont's proposed accountability system," and did not "Ensure significant progress in improving student achievement."

Since applying for the waiver, Vermont has held a series of time-consuming negotiations as it attempted to create its own system of measurement and accountability that relied less on standardized tests and punitive actions against teachers, administrators and schools.

Throughout those negotiations it became more and more apparent that the U.S Department of Education would not be willing to budge on many of Vermont's requests, and so when the latest letter arrived in Montpelier asking for more details the State Board of Education decided to cut its losses and move on.

"As the Vermont Department of Education has continued to negotiate for the flexibility that was promised since we started in August, it has become clear that the U.S. Education Department is interested in simply replacing one punitive, prescriptive model of accountability with another," Vermont Department of Education Spokeswoman Jill Remick said. "We cannot continue to expend energy requesting a detailed accountability system that looks less and less like what we want for Vermont."

The U.S. Department of Education has approved waiver requests from 11 states.

Remick said that while President Obama encouraged states to ask for the waivers, the U.S. Department of Education was still requiring schools to test students and forcing schools to pin those test results to teacher evaluations.

With the waiver request now withdrawn, Vermont will have to continue testing its students and measuring adequate yearly progress largely based on the outcomes of the assessments.