March 27, 2013

DESE Should Consider District Level Waivers

Let’s recap. In 1965, the United States Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as part of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. The act must be reauthorized every five years. The most recent authorization took place in 2001. Since then, most people know ESEA as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). NCLB required states to implement a system of test-based accountability. The ESEA has not been reauthorized since 2001.

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the United States Department of Education (U.S. DoE) created a competitive grant process called Race to the Top. The Race to the Top application encouraged states to adopt college- and career-ready standards.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) applied for a Race to the Top grant in January of 2010, promising to adopt college- and career-ready standards.

In 2012, the U.S. DoE began awarding waivers to No Child Left Behind. DESE applied for a waiver in February of 2012, again promising to adopt college- and career-ready standards. They received the waiver in June of 2012.

DESE, without approval from the legislature, set Missouri on a new course by adopting the Common Core State Standards. Essentially, DESE committed Missourians to a set of national curriculum standards.

The Common Core State Standards have been met with a considerable amount of consternation.  Bills have been introduced in the Missouri House and Senate that would halt the implementation of the new standards. I have submitted written testimony to the committees and written elsewhere about the impact of these standards.

Now we are finding out that individual districts in states that did not receive waivers from the U.S. DoE are able to apply for waivers. What I want to know is, when will DESE begin awarding waivers to school districts that wish to opt out of Common Core? After all, the state was able to opt out of a federally binding law and now individual school districts may have that ability. Shouldn’t DESE give local schools the ability to opt out of these new state standards if they can demonstrate that they have a comprehensive local system of accountability in place?

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