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August 31. 2012 2:13AM

State looking for greater local control over education

CONCORD — The state Department of Education wants the federal government to give it flexibility to institute its own accountability and improvement system without putting its federal Title 1 funding at risk.

The department late Thursday afternoon released a draft waiver request it will send to Washington next week seeking to exempt the state from many of the current No Child Left Behind Act requirements.

“The NH Department of Education believes that for too many years, New Hampshire along with every other state, has had to operate pursuant to the provisions of an outdated federal education law, which, while well intentioned, does not support a holistic and a rational accountability structure or the focused and meaningful supports schools need,” education officials write in the draft waiver.

Under the waiver, the state’s plan would decentralize accountability and instead establish regional networks to help underperforming schools, administrators and teachers, while local school districts would be able to develop their own specific plans.

Education officials say state accountability laws changed in 2009 under Senate Bill 180, which requires both an input-based and a performance-based system that is not supported under the federal law.

Education officials say the requested waiver will allow the state to move more quickly to reach its goal and benefit New Hampshire students.

The waiver request is good news to some educators.

Mark Joyce, executive director of the NH School Administrators Association, said that when the NCLB law was passed, his organization did a study criticizing it and calling for its repeal. “At the time we called it an unfunded grasp of federal control,” he said, adding “Interestingly, enough time has proven the study correct.”

He said the law focused on a small group of students over a narrow curriculum who were just below the bar established under the standards.

“Those kids become like a laser where you spend all your money and research to move those kids just above the line,” Joyce said. “What happens to the kids above the line? What happens to those kids way below it?” He said a lot of money can go into schools that fail, but the real trick is to sustain support over time.

“We have great schools in New Hampshire because we have great local support over time,” Joyce said.

Under the current requirements chronically underperforming schools could eventually lose the federal money intended to improve education.

Title 1 money is distributed to school districts based on the number of students from low-income families and districts decide how best to use the money to improve education programs.

Under the NCLB act, schools that fail to meet student proficiency levels eventually would lose control over their Title 1 money or may lose it together if they fail to improve standardized test results over several of years.

The waiver is expected to include a new system to evaluate teacher and principal performance. The new systems would first be implemented and tested in small pilot programs before they would be implemented statewide.

Under the waiver, the state would move away from using the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) tests, which are currently used to determine if schools achieve yearly progress requirements.

Instead the waiver envisions testing aligned with the Common Core State Standards developed by school administrators and the National Association of Governors.

The State School Board adopted half of the core standards, but lawmakers objected and passed a law requiring the Legislature to approve the rest of the common core standards.

Joyce said the federal law relies on only one test that was used for the wrong purpose. Other tests should be used to create a better picture of student performance, he said.

The proposed waiver would establish a rigorous curriculum for all students, Joyce said, and accountability for everyone: students, teachers and administrators.

“As we know in New Hampshire, the only way things like this happen is if they are left in the hands of local districts to control, design and create a model and let the individual school districts operate under a broad outline,” Joyce said.

Under the waiver, the state would be able to use existing rewards and improvement programs such as the Governor’s Initiative to Eliminate High School Drop Outs and the NH Excellence in Education Awards to satisfy federal requirements.

To date about 35 states have been granted waivers.

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Garry Rayno may be reached at grayno@unionleader.com.


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