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Feds OK Key Waiver for LBUSD

Eight school districts in the non-profit California Office to Reform Education – a consortium that includes the Long Beach Unified School District – have been granted a waiver from the Obama Administration to implement the School Quality Improvement System in place of No Child Left Behind accountability rules.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the approval of the waiver today.

“The CORE districts have been engaged in collaboration and innovation designed to promote deep student learning and effective implementation of new standards that will prepare students for college and a career,” Duncan said. "The districts’ approved plan includes key accountability components that when implemented will surpass the rigor of the current NCLB system and provide an opportunity to expand innovative interventions and practices that can improve student achievement, rather than spending time and resources implementing NCLB’s one-size-fits-all mandates."

"Today is a momentous day for schools and students in the Long Beach Unified School District," said LBUSD Superintendent Christopher J. Steinhauser.  "This waiver provides flexibility to improve our efforts to prepare all students for college and careers.  Like Governor Brown's recently approved funding formula for schools, this waiver returns much needed control and flexibility to the local level.  As educators, we have sought such flexibility for years.  Secretary Duncan's announcement represents a seismic shift in school accountability for us, replacing an unfair and punitive system with one that rewards improvement and provides real help to schools that need it.  We thank the secretary for his careful review of this waiver, and for having the courage to approve it."

Under existing No Child Left Behind rules, 48 schools in the Long Beach Unified School District were designated last year as Program Improvement schools, meaning they were subject to federal sanctions, in many cases despite significant gains in student achievement.  School districts throughout the nation have faced similar scenarios under No Child Left Behind, sparking NCLB waivers in dozens of states.  Today's waiver is the first such NCLB waiver for California schools, and it creates a new system for designating schools as either priority schools (those needing the most assistance), focus schools, and schools of distinction (reward schools).  Reward schools would be paired with priority schools so that effective practices can be shared.  Under the new system, Long Beach would have no priority schools, because, among other reasons, Long Beach does not have any schools that perform in the bottom 5 percent on math and English tests.  Long Beach would have three focus schools: Jefferson Middle School, Burcham K-8 School and Harte Elementary School.

Some schools, such as Long Beach’s Franklin Middle School, will be designated as reward schools under the new system, as opposed to program improvement schools under the old system.  Franklin has shown academic growth for all subgroups of students, and its algebra proficiency rates far exceed the state’s despite the fact that nearly 100 percent of Franklin’s students live in poverty, as determined by eligibility for free and reduced price meals.

“Schools like Franklin need to be recognized for the fine job they’re doing,” Steinhauser said.

The elimination of sanctions frees up about $6.8 million in federal funding.  Until now, Long Beach schools have been forced to spend much of that funding on supplemental service providers, or private providers of tutoring and other academic services.

"Instead of spending those resources on private providers that face little accountability, we can direct those funds toward more effective interventions for students, such as extra academic help provided by trained, certificated staff," Steinhauser said.

While all ten CORE districts contributed to the development of the School Quality Improvement System, eight school districts that are part of the CORE consortium applied to participate in the School Quality Improvement System through a bundled waiver request. The eight participating districts are Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Sanger, and Santa Ana Unified School Districts. Together, these CORE districts serve more than a million students.

View news release from U.S. Dept. of Education.

View additional information at http://coredistricts.org.