9 California school districts seek waivers on No Child Left Behind

Published: Friday, Mar. 1, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 4A
Last Modified: Sunday, Mar. 3, 2013 - 2:54 pm

Sacramento City Unified is one of nine California school districts Thursday that filed a joint application for a waiver of stringent federal school standards. In addition, the nine districts proposed an alternative method to measure performance.

The superintendents of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Fresno, San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento City, Santa Ana, Sanger and Clovis unified districts said they are seeking their own waivers from No Child Left Behind standards after the U.S. Department of Education rejected a waiver application by California.

Under federal law, districts can file their own applications, though they are generally filed by states. So far, 34 states and the District of Columbia have obtained waivers while 10 other requests are pending.

If the superintendents' application is approved, the districts would regain $110 million in federal funding that has been redirected to other uses because they are not meeting federal benchmarks for student progress, which are based on standardized test scores. Combined, the nine districts educate about 1 million students.

Sacramento City Unified would gain $4 million that otherwise would have to be used to fund supplemental education services mandated by No Child Left Behind, Superintendent Jonathan Raymond said Thursday. The tutoring services are usually run by for-profit companies approved by the state, not by districts.

Raymond said the money could be used to help implement new curriculum standards, expand after-school intervention programs and summer school, or enrich the district's parent-teacher home visit program, among other things.

He and the other superintendents who signed the application said they want to create a fairer, broader measure of school success that does not rely so heavily on test scores that have led to many schools being classified as failing, especially those with large numbers of low-income students and English learners.

"We're not trying to escape accountability," said Richard Carranza, superintendent of San Francisco Unified.

Their proposal would create three tiers of schools: schools of distinction, priority schools and focus schools. Teachers from schools of distinction would mentor their peers in priority and focus schools that have similar student populations.

Other measures would also be used, including parent and student satisfaction as measured by surveys, suspensions, expulsions, absenteeism, graduation rates, English learners' language proficiency rates, and new protocols for identifying special education students.

"We are moving away from a sort of all-or-nothing focus on proficiency and moving toward a system of greater accountability, moving from the No Child to what I call the whole child," Raymond said.

The superintendents will first submit the application to the State Board of Education for review. The proposal and board comments will then be forwarded to federal education officials, who will submit it for peer review. A final decision is expected in May or June.

Raymond said a memorandum of understanding will go before the Sacramento City Unified school board for public adoption in June.

If the application is approved by all parties, the new system could go into effect in the next school year.

The superintendents said any school district or charter organization is welcome to join their application.

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