WASHINGTON (AP) - Millions of at-risk students could fall through the cracks as the Education Department gives states permission to ignore parts of No Child Left Behind, according to a study education advocates released Tuesday.
The Education Department has been giving states waivers from the education law's requirements, including those to collect and publish data about students from poor families, students whose native language is not English, those with learning disabilities and minority students. The resulting patchwork of rules - from Miami to Seattle - has given states more freedom to implement plans to boost education but has allowed almost 2,300 schools to shed their label of seriously troubled, according to numbers compiled at the Campaign for High School Equity.
"It appears to us that waivers could lead to fewer students of color receiving the support they need," said Rufina Hernandez, executive director for the Campaign for High School Equity.
Her coalition of education reformers, civil rights activists and policy analysts studied the 34 states and the District of Columbia that had received waivers from No Child Left Behind before April. (Another six states and a collection of individual districts in California have won waivers since then.)
The results show students who are at the highest risk of dropping out are often no longer tracked as carefully as they were before Education Secretary Arne Duncan began exempting states from some requirements if they promised to better prepare their students for college or careers.
The Education Department had no immediate reaction to the study but Duncan has been vocal in calling for a rewrite of No Child Left Behind that would render his waivers moot.
Under the original No Child Left Behind, schools that failed to teach at-risk students would be flagged if one group wasn't keeping pace. If one of the subgroups failed to meet its performance targets for two consecutive years, officials were required to stage an intervention to turn the entire school around.
But the advocates' review finds those in-depth reporting requirements have fallen by the wayside under the waivers. An intervention is no longer automatically triggered in as many as 19 states, meaning those efforts that once were at the center of the law are now optional. In 16 states, student groups are lumped together and treated as one bloc of at-risk pupils, essentially scrapping the reporting of at-risk groups by label.
The waivers make it easier to mask stumbles.
"The No Child Left Behind system itself was far from perfect," said Phillip Lovell, vice president for federal advocacy with the Alliance for Excellent Education. "Where is succeeded was shining the spotlight on the subgroups."
That spotlight now has dimmed, he said.
Take, for instance, Ohio. In that state, 856 schools failed to meet their performance benchmarks for at-risk students two years in a row. Under the waiver Duncan approved, the number of schools called troubled schools fell to 445. Of that smaller sum, only 162 schools were deemed an urgent priority.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, said Mike Petrilli, who has studied No Child Left Behind as a leader of the reform-minded Fordham Institute.
"The waivers allow states to prioritize. We should be saving the toughest interventions for schools that have low proficiency and low progress," said Petrilli, a former official at the Education Department. "The spirit of the law is to make sure that kids don't get left behind."
In all, 2,292 schools nationwide were deemed no longer needing special attention for improvement in states operating under waivers.
Duncan's department can adjust this, though, when states return to the Education Department seeking to continue running their schools outside of No Child Left Behind's rules. Duncan's hall passes only last one year and states face the threat of returning to No Child Left Behind's requirements if they don't execute their improvements plans.
"They can get stricter to make sure the accountability happens in states and trigger the interventions that were in place under No Child Left Behind," Hernandez said.
In 2011, the Education Department announced that states could petition Duncan for waivers from No Child Left Behind's ambitious requirements, such as having all students read and count at grade level by 2014 or else risk their federal funding.
In most cases, Duncan has agreed to their requests in exchange for promised improvements. Illinois, Iowa, Texas and Wyoming are still waiting for Duncan's verdict for their applications.
Duncan had hoped the specter of waivers would compel Congress to update No Child Left Behind, which expired in 2007 without renewal.
"The same year that No Child Left Behind came out, the iPod came out," Petrilli said. "We're still on No Child Left Behind, version 1.0, and we've had new versions of the iPod, iPhone, iPad."
Various rewrites of the law have been discussed but none has made its way to the White House for a president's signature. The Republican-led House has passed a version; a rewrite has been completed in the Senate education panel but no vote of the full body has been scheduled.
"NCLB is six years overdue for an update, and nearly all agree that it should be replaced with a law that gives systems and educators greater freedom while continuing to fulfill the law's original promise," Duncan wrote in Sunday's Washington Post.
"In the months ahead, I will ask Congress to listen to those doing the real work of education change," he added.
Parents of students in the Riverview Gardens and Normandy School Districts came together for a rally this morning.
The parents are issuing a call for higher quality education. Attendees argued that it was unfair for Mehlville to turn students away because of class-size concerns. The parents also called on Riverview Gardens and Normandy to become more transparent this school year.
Student leaders and over a hundred mentors spent time transitioning Normandy students to the Francis Howell School District.
475 Normandy students made the leap to the accredited district. The number breaks down to 168 elementary school students, 164, middle school students, and 143 high schoolers. The kids spent the day getting tours of the schools, participating in team-building activities, and locating their lockers.
The first day of school is Thursday.
Many parents in the unaccredited Riverview Gardens school district are unhappy after district officials announced they'll bus students to the Mehlville School District in order to comply with a Missouri Supreme Court ruling. The South County district is about 30 miles from the failing one in North County.
Parents aren't the only one's expressing concerns. Mehlville's superintendent says his district lacks the space for transferring students. Eric Knost says his district welcomes the transferring students, but warns that Mehville's classrooms are already at capacity.
Riverview officials say they're working to re-earn accreditation quickly and hope that parents will keep their kids enrolled there.
CARBONDALE, Ill. (AP) - Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard says the school has met a budget milestone.
He told The Southern Illinoisan Editorial Board on Monday that for the first time in several years SIU has been able to enter the next fiscal year with a budget equal to the previous year. University officials had been bracing for another 5 percent cut, but instead were able to convince state lawmakers to reinstate funding at the previous year's level. The school's budget will be $203 million.
Poshard also discussed enrollment. He says it's unrealistic to think the school's declining enrollment will turn around. But Poshard says he sees evidence enrollment is moving in the right direction. He says he has confidence Chancellor Rita Cheng will accomplish the task.
EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (AP) - An East St. Louis program aimed at helping at-risk students is celebrating after every high school senior enrolled in the program graduated and was accepted to college.
Pathways began in 2011, working with students in sixth grade through high school. There are 168 participants, including this year's six graduates.
The program at the Christian Activity Center in East St. Louis focuses on academics. Director Angela Whitlow tells the Belleville News-Democrat she'll continue to work with the graduates to help them navigate paperwork, registration and financial aid issues.
Seventeen year old Paul Graham will be a first-generation college student when he begins studying in a pre-veterinary program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale this fall.
He says his mom is proud.
Less than two-thirds of East St. Louis students graduate from high school.
The Illinois State Board of Education has released the state's first set of math courses under the new common core standards.
Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon and the board announced the curriculum for 6th through 12th grade classes on Thursday. The package of coursework is aimed at reducing remedial math needs for college-bound students and better preparing students for the workforce.
State officials say the new courses will be available this fall and teachers can adapt the units as needed.
Missouri education officials have also signed on to the common core standards, Republican state lawmakers want to rescind that decision.
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - The Missouri House has rejected tough new evaluation standards for school principals and administrators.
The House voted 82-76 to defeat the measure Wednesday, one of Republican House Speaker Tim Jones' top education priorities.
This marks the second defeat of legislation to impose evaluations based largely on student achievement. Previous versions of the bill would have subjected teachers to the evaluation standards, but that provision was removed from this bill in an effort to pass the measure.
The evaluations would have started in the 2014-15 academic year and would've included multiple measures and be conducted at least annually. School personnel would have been classified on a four-point scale ranging from highly effective to ineffective.
The new Common Core education standards are meeting local resistance before they've even been implemented in Missouri.
About 150 people in the Lindbergh School District attended an informational meeting held last night. But the state education official was heckled while she tried to explain the new standards. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Maureen Clancy-May was met with calls to "tell the truth" and questions about using kids as a science experiment.
Missouri is one of 45 states that have adopted the Common Core standard, a set of national goals for reading, writing and math skills.
Many at last night's meeting wanted to know why the state Legislature wasn't involved in the decision to adopt the standard.
Legislatures in several states, including Missouri, are now debating a repeal.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri education officials are having statewide meetings to talk to the public about a new uniform set of benchmarks for math, reading and writing.
The gatherings will get started at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in Florissant, St. Louis, Cape Girardeau, Springfield, Marceline, Camdenton, Warrensburg and Kansas City.
The new Common Core standards replace a hodgepodge of educational goals that varied wildly from state to state. The federal government was not involved in the state-led effort to develop them but has encouraged the project.
The only states not to adopt the standards are Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia. Minnesota adopted the reading but not the math standards.
Backers say they will better prepare students for college and careers. But critics worry they'll be costly to implement and nationalize public schools.