Conn. to seek No Child waiver; seeks public input
HARTFORD, Conn.—Connecticut education officials have decided to seek a waiver from parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law, saying they need more flexibility to focus on improving student achievement and instruction in its public schools.
State officials said in a newly posted announcement on the Department of Education's website that they plan to submit the request by Feb. 21.
Eleven states applied last fall for relief from some mandates of the Bush-era law to improve schools nationwide, and several other states have said they are preparing applications.
The announcement, posted Friday, is the first official word that Connecticut will seek the waiver. It did not specify, however, which federal requirements the waiver request would address, and state education officials Tuesday did not immediately return a call for comment.
Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor is expected to update the state Board of Education on the waiver request at its meeting Wednesday in Hartford. The department also is asking parents, education activists and others to send in their opinions and suggestions by email to title1waivers(at)ct.gov.
The No Child law, enacted in 2002, sets strict testing rules and requires proficiency from all students regardless of race, family income, disability or their ability to speak English. Schools that miss the targets face increasing consequences, from paying for students to receive free tutoring to potential state takeovers.
"It requires state intervention and fairly draconian steps in an increasingly large percentage of our schools that just aren't appropriate," state Board of Education Chairman Allan Taylor said Tuesday. "I think since we are developing an aggressive and focused (school improvement) plan, seeking a waiver fits right in."
Nearly half of Connecticut schools fell short last year of the law's requirements, particularly those in the state's poorest cities. That was up from 2010, when one-third of the schools failed to achieve "adequate yearly progress."
Connecticut officials said in their website announcement that getting relief from some of the mandates will help with plans to address achievement gaps between rich and poor students, and between white students and their minority counterparts.
Education is expected to be a major focus of the General Assembly session that starts in February. Major areas will include evaluating and improving the effectiveness of teachers and administrators; reducing duplication and red tape that make it difficult for some districts to launch local reforms; and ensuring all graduates are ready for college and careers.
The Obama administration is letting states seek waivers from some provisions of the law if they prove their standards are more rigorous and push toward students' constant improvement. States whose waiver applications fall short will have a chance to work with federal officials to correct and re-submit those plans, the U.S. Department of Education has said.
More than two dozen states have said they plan to apply by Feb. 21 in the second round of waiver requests, including Connecticut and four of the other five New England states. Massachusetts was among those that applied in the first round.
Several groups have weighed in on school reform, saying they worry that progress made in some urban school districts has gone overlooked under the strict provisions of the No Child act and that major changes are needed to close the achievement gap.
The Connecticut Council for Education Reform, a group of statewide business leaders, is among those supportive of the state's efforts to improve its schools. Group vice chairman, Steve Simmons, said Tuesday the council supports the request for a waiver. He said a waiver would give the state a chance "to adopt new and rigorous provisions for accountability for student learning."