As you already know, the Obama Administration’s effort to eviscerate the Adequate Yearly Progress accountability provision of the No Child Left Behind Act has proven to be little more than shoddy policymaking that is setting back efforts at systemic reform. Within the past year, President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have allowed states such as Tennessee, Florida, and Virginia to enact Plessy v. Ferguson-like race- and class-based socioeconomic targets that define proficiency down as well as subject poor and minority kids to the soft bigotry of low expectations. The administration has granted waivers to states such as Ohio and New York even though aspects of their proposals — including revamped teacher evaluations — were not yet in place (and may end up being scuttled by the efforts of National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers affiliates).Meanwhile the Obama Administration has allowed states such as Indiana, Louisiana, and South Dakota to game their graduation rates (including counting General Education Development certificates in those calculations) as well as letting states count graduation rates for fewer than a third of performance on the respective accountability indexes of waiver states. While the Obama Administration has been doing all it can to cover up this error with a variety of fig leaves (including a move last month to require high schools with low graduation rates for poor and minority kids to take up a series of reforms), the reality remains that the waiver gambit is little more than shoddy policymaking and slipshod execution at the expense of children.
Yet one of the biggest problems of the administration’s No Child waiver gambit is one that shouldn’t be a problem at all: The lack of immediate disclosure of waiver requests by the states submitting them. Considering the complaints from civil rights activists and others about state governments failing to consult them on various aspects of the waivers — as well as concerns about the lack of consultation with American Indian tribes and others expressed by the U.S. Department of Education’s own peer review panels — one would think the Obama Administration would publish the requests on its own site and make sure that states fully disclose the waiver requests. Yet this isn’t happening.
Only one of the three states that requested a No Child waiver — Texas — has fully disclosed its request. You can find plenty of fault with the Lone Star State’s proposal. Its decision to ditch the very subgroup accountability measures it pioneered two decades ago, which has led to poor and minority kids making strong academic gains, is absolutely unacceptable, while the fact that the plan doesn’t spell out how it will measure student progress or what annual performance targets will be makes the request a pure mess. Considering that the legislature is wrongly moving to lower expectations for kids by eliminating some of the end-of-course assessments that were put into place last year, there are plenty of questions as to whether state officials can even meet the promises they set out in the waiver. At the same time, Texas deserves some credit for allowing the proverbial sun to shine on its No Child waiver request — and allow for families, reformers, and others to either support or challenge aspects of the plan.
This hasn’t happened with any of the other states making No Child waiver requests. Pennsylvania, for example, only offers a seven-page summary of its waiver request that promises “Transparent Reporting” of school data to families, communities, and policymakers. The only thing you can know for sure is that the Keystone State is embracing the rightfully controversial Cut the Gap in Half approach developed by the Education Trust which has garnered controversy from civil rights group in Virginia and Florida because it essentially allows districts to shortchange poor and minority kids. Because of the lack of disclosure, reformers, families, and civil rights groups in the state don’t have the information needed to either analyze or even challenge the waiver request, while media outlets can’t provide thoughtful and thorough coverage of the state’s plans. Certainly Keystone State education officials may prefer the public to know nothing about its plans. But such lack of full disclosure is unacceptable.
Meanwhile Wyoming hasn’t fully disclosed the details of its waiver request at all. One can go to the state education department’s Web site and find press releases about the originally-submitted request as well as news that Duncan granted an extension to file a revised version of it. While elements of the Cowboy State’s request may include allowing districts to not have to notify families of kids in failing schools of their school choice options (which the state requested last year), there’s no way for anyone to really know for sure other than to take the word of David Holbrook, the state education department’s czar over meeting federal rules, that the goal is to reduce bureaucracy. That’s not good enough for the state’s Native communities, whose children have been subjected to plenty of educational malpractice; 65 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native fourth-graders in Wyoming were functionally illiterate, according to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress. And it shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone else in the state.
You would expect the Obama Administration to at least release the requests on the Department of Education’s Web site. But the requests have not been released there either. While you can access approved waiver plans as well as proposals submitted as long as a year ago by states such as New Hampshire, those living in Pennsylvania and Wyoming are out of luck. None of this is surprising. After all, as Dropout Nation has reported within the last year, states such as New York and New Mexico have been cited by the Department of Education’s own peer reviewers for failing to consult with American Indian tribes and others affected by the waivers. Yet the Obama Administration has continually approved waivers in spite of such concerns. This also isn’t shocking because the Obama Administration has essentially shown through its own actions that it isn’t all that concerned about disclosure — from refusing to disclose the names of experts participating in reviews of Race to the Top proposals, to its generally lackluster record on transparency in other areas of the federal government.
This unwillingness to embrace full disclosure has consequences for other aspects of reform. One of the reasons why Common Core reading and math standards have been opposed so vehemently by more-fervent traditionalists and movement conservatives alike is because of the perception that states covertly enacted the standards as part of a conspiracy orchestrated by the Obama Administration and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. As I have pointed out, this isn’t so. But it is hard to defend Common Core or even other reform efforts when state governments and the administration are failing to fully disclose No Child waiver requests the same day they have been submitted to the federal government for consideration.
Wyoming and Pennsylvania should release their waiver requests to the public right now. The Obama Administration should demand the states to do so immediately, and then disclose the requests on the Department of Education’s Web site. Of course, it would be better if the administration abandoned this entire waiver gambit altogether. But let’s at least get full disclosure.