In response to concerns raised by federal regulators, Los Angeles Unified and eight other school districts have filed an amended application for a waiver from a federal law requiring that all students be proficient in English and math by 2014.
The coalition dubbed the California Office to Reform Education is seeking an exemption from key academic provisions of the No Child Left Behind law, which has labeled 500 schools in Los Angeles and thousands more statewide as failing. If approved by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the waiver would take effect in the fall and would be the first ever granted to a group of districts, which together educate 1.1 million students.
Currently, based on standardized tests, just half of the students in LAUSD are considered proficient in English and 52 percent are proficient in math. Benchmarks in No Child Left Behind give the district just one year to raise those totals to 100 percent.
The waiver would lift that proficiency mandate and also would give districts more freedom in how they can spend about $110 million in federal money now earmarked for improving student achievement at low-income schools. Money now spent to hire outside tutors or bus kids to better schools could be spent instead to train teachers or hold summer school classes.
Rather than using No Child criteria to gauge a school's achievement, CORE has proposed its own accountability system, called the School Quality Improvement Index. Sixty percent of a school's score would be based on standardized tests and graduation rates, 20 percent on absenteeism and suspension rates, and another 20 percent on campus "culture and climate."
Some revisions to the application, such as clarification of a teacher evaluation system, were based on questions raised by a six-member review panel.
At the same time, CORE changed its proposed accountability criteria so schools would have to report the progress of roughly 200,000 additional students, many of whom are Latino, African-American, English-learners or disabled.
"This change was not requested or required by the U.S. Department of Education, but we are absolutely committed to shining a bright light on achievement and support for our traditionally underserved students," said LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy.
Los Angeles Unified is joined in CORE by districts in Long Beach, Fresno, Santa Ana, San Francisco, Sacramento City, Oakland, Clovis and Sanger.
Under CORE's proposal, the waiver would be extended to any other district or charter operator in California that agrees to follow its plan.
State education officials announced last week they would not make another attempt to get a No Child waiver. California lost its bid in 2012 because it was unwilling to tie student test scores to teacher evaluations, a key requirement of the waiver.
Forty states and the District of Columbia have won waivers from No Child Left Behind and eight other states are awaiting word on their application.
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