New York State Commissioner of Education John King testified in Washington yesterday, Feb. 7 before the Senate Education Committee on the effectiveness of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) state flexibility waivers. The Obama administration began offering these waivers to state education agencies in 2011, recognizing that the requirements of NCLB, passed into law a decade ago, inadvertently encouraged some states to set low academic standards and did not recognize or reward growth in student achievement.
To be eligible for a waiver, a state must develop comprehensive plans designed to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps, increase equity, and improve the quality of instruction. Washington, D.C. and 34 states, including New York, have been approved for waivers.
Commissioner King testified that while New York supports the accountability requirements of NCLB (students are assessed annually in English Language Arts and Math; test scores are broken down by sub-groups to ensure the scores of higher-performing students do not mask the scores of lower-performing groups), the system does not work well enough to bring about reforms the State desires.
“The waiver was for New York an opportunity to accelerate our ongoing education reform efforts.” — New York Education Commissioner John King
The New York Board of Regents reforms include adoption of the Common Core Standards, which New York has backmapped to the pre-kindergarten level, enactment of a rigorous teacher and principal evaluation system, and adoption of a new accountability system that recognizes schools in which students make progress towards career and college readiness as opposed to meeting absolute standards.
NCLB requires 100 percent of students test at grade-level proficiency by 2014, and does not take into account students that make great strides while still falling short of NCLB goals.
NCLB is a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) first enacted in 1965. Its goal is to ensure equity in education across the country. Because public schools are largely financed with property taxes, students in economically disadvantaged areas may not have access to necessary resources for learning. Federal funding through the ESEA is intended to remedy this disparity.
The Federal act expired in 2007, but its requirements continue until reauthorization. The Senate Education Committee recognizes the need to overhaul and reauthorize the act although failed to do so in the last session of Congress.
Commissioner King suggested the committee consider providing incentives or compelling states to align k-12 education with post-secondary education and connect early childhood education to K-12 curriculum.
According to King, 50 percent of students entering two-year colleges require remediation and better alignment between high school and college assessments would prevent students from having to pay for high school courses at college prices. King also sees a disconnect between pre-school education and elementary school, saying that many pre-k providers are providing baby-sitting services rather than preparing children for school.