Last week Kansas received a waiver from the main provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The press release from Kansas State Department of Education reads in part: “With the approval, the accountability system for Kansas schools will shift from ensuring a prescribed percentage of students achieve proficiency on state reading and math assessments each year to ensuring schools achieve a prescribed level of improvement on at least one of several Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) established by the state. … With the waiver in place, the state can now look to multiple measures to assess the performance of Kansas schools in helping all students achieve.”
One of the major criticisms of NCLB is its emphasis on high-stakes testing in reading and math, which may lead to over-emphasis on these subjects at the expense of others. “Teaching to the test” is another related criticism.
But we need to be watchful of the standards Kansas state officials establish going forward. That’s because few states have lower standards than Kansas. One of the features of NCLB is that it let each state establish its own standards for evaluating student learning. What we find is states like Kansas have rising scores on their own state tests, but steady or even falling scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests, called “the nation’s report card.” See Kansas needs truth about schools.
The waiver will also require Kansas to modify the way teachers are evaluated. Again, from the KSDE press release: “Another key component of the state’s waiver is related to evaluating teachers and school leaders. Among the criteria for achieving a waiver request was implementing an evaluation system that includes student achievement as a significant factor in the evaluation. The Kansas plan calls for appointing a commission to identify the most effective means of tying student achievement to teacher and leader evaluations and building that into the existing Kansas Educator Evaluation Protocol (KEEP).”
KEEP is an evaluation system that was first used in the last school year on a pilot basis. In April Peter Hancock of Kansas Education Policy Report wrote: “Under guidelines for the waiver, states must either have an evaluation system in place that makes student achievement a ‘primary component’ of an evaluation, or they must commit to putting such a system in place by the end of this school year. Kansas is currently piloting a new system called the Kansas Educator Evaluation Protocol (KEEP), but it does not currently have a component that includes student achievement.”
Many people would be surprised to learn that student achievement has not been the primary factor used in evaluating teachers in Kansas. This is one of the reasons why Kansas has been found to rank low in policies on teacher quality.
The fact that 33 states have been granted waivers — and more have applied — raises questions regarding public policy and rule of law. Last year David Boaz wrote regarding the increased use of waivers from federal laws and regulations “The rule of waivers is not the rule of law. … Philip Hamburger of Columbia Law School says waivers raise ‘questions about whether we live under a government of laws. Congress can pass statutes that apply to some businesses and not others, but once a law has passed — and therefore is binding — how can the executive branch relieve some Americans of their obligation to obey it?’”
The No Child Left Behind law has proven to be very unpopular. The solution is to repeal it, rather than offering piecemeal waivers, especially since the waivers are accompanied by other regulation.