Illinois receives No Child Left Behind waiver

By Alex Swanson

Illinois will now see more flexibility in teaching and education funding practices. The state recently received a federal waiver for No Child Left Behind, which will allow the state more freedom in meeting the standards of the law. In exchange, Illinois must follow state level plans to improve education.

NCLB was created under the George W. Bush administration in 2001, but was not approved for reauthorization in 2007. For years, NCLB has been a controversial topic throughout the country. The law calls for greater accountability for students and greatly increased standardized testing. Under the law, schools have certain standards in math and reading they are expected to meet or exceed. 

In order to provide relief for schools, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that states could apply for waivers starting in 2011, which allowed states to have more control in student assessment and standards than originally allowed under NCLB. 

Illinois first applied for the waiver in 2012, but the approval was delayed because of a disagreement between the federal and state governments in regard to a timeline for teacher evaluations.

The District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Bureau of Indian Education and 45 states have applied for No Child Left Behind waivers; the District of Colombia, Puerto Rico and all but two of the states that applied have been approved.

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Mary Fergus, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education spoke to why so many states are applying for the waiver.

“It was pretty well known as a rather punitive law, so if you didn’t make a certain meet or exceeds … you faced sanctions, you were called a failing school,” Fergus said. “So this was a chance for states to say, ‘we want to look at different metrics to look at students and look at how they are doing.’”  

Fergus also said the waiver will change the way that the state can fund education. Instead of having to allocate federal dollars to tutoring, school choice or transportation, schools will have much more flexibility with those funds.

The state is moving away from No Child Left Behind and exploring and implementing new ways to teach and assess students. The Common Core State Standards and Illinois Learning Standards were passed in 2010 and are examples of such assessments.

“It’s really part of a greater effort for higher standards, new testing that focuses on progress rather than a snapshot in time,” Fergus said.

Sarah McCarthey, a professor in the College of Education, published an article in 2008 about the negative impact of NCLB. She expressed she is somewhat optimistic about Common Core State Standards, though she still has apprehension surrounding their implementation.

“I am concerned that, once again a good idea, can devolve into a set of mandates driven by accountability measures that reduce education to passing tests.”

McCarthey also spoke about the potential of flexibility regarding the NCLB waiver.

“My own hopes are that teachers will be less hampered by NCLB and the accompanying constraints of standardized tests and narrowed curriculum,” McCarthey said in an email. “Instead, I hope they will be energized to design instruction that promotes collaboration among students, focuses on problem solving, and encourages students to be creative.”

Schools must make adequate yearly progress under NCLB, the rate of which is defined by each state.

If the school doesn’t make adequate yearly progress for two years in a row, the school is flagged and must draft a “school improvement plan.” After three years, the school is identified for corrective action. After a fourth year, the school is identified for continued restructuring.

If the school fails for the fifth year, then major restructuring changes must take place, even so much as turning it over to private management or converting it to a charter school.

Parents with children in a failing school district will have the option of relocating their child, and the transportation goes to the expense of the NCLB program.

Jessie Garmon, member of the Student Education Association and junior in Education spoke about the positives and negatives of the law.

“It’s helping children to keep up with academics and not fall way behind and be further behind then their peers,” Garmon said. “It’s frustrating for teachers, because their job is relying on how well their students perform and sometimes there are kids that can’t perform well on tests. It’s almost unfair to teachers that they are being assessed on how well their students do.”

Stephanie Sharpe, sophomore in LAS and member of Epsilon Delta, a professional teaching organization, spoke to her disapproval of the standardized testing she received before attending the University.

“I found it negatively impacted my education actually, I thought test preparation was not nearly as engaging as other activities we did in school,” Sharpe said. “No one really liked it, and no one really put much value into ISATs or whatever test we were taking.”

Fergus also talked about the evolution of educational thinking in Illinois policy, from No Child Left Behind, to where it stands today.

“The standard was proficiency, and we talked about meeting or exceeding standards of proficiency. Now we’re talking about college and career readiness,” Fergus said. “We want to see students taking fewer remedial classes once they get to college.

Alex can be reached at [email protected].