The federal Department of Education on Thursday approved petitions by seven states – including Alabama – for increased state-level flexibility in implementing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, better known as the “No Child Left Behind” law approved by Congress in 2001 under then-President George W. Bush.
The department said their decision reflected both the success of the federal law overall – which in part has been aided by innovations from states and local districts – as well as a growing desire for autonomy in many states.
“The last six years have seen dramatic progress for America’s school children. The high school dropout rate is down, and graduation rates are higher than they have ever been,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a news release.
“As a result of our partnerships with state and district leaders to couple flexibility with reform, we are seeing remarkable strides and bold actions to improve student outcomes. States, districts, principals and teachers are showing incredible creativity in using different means to achieve the same goal — getting every student in America college- and career-ready,” added Duncan, a former CEO of Chicago Public Schools district.
Alabama’s specific increases in flexibility were as follows:
Alabama created a Principal Leadership Network to ensure that principals in its lowest-performing, or priority, schools have the support to be effective leaders in these schools, as measured by the state’s principal evaluation and support system. Through this program, regional cohorts of principals gather regularly to discuss strategies for school improvement, participate in professional development, and visit to model classrooms and schools throughout the state.
The state has identified exemplar schools and classrooms that have shown progress in closing achievement gaps for students with disabilities. School leaders and teachers from across the State can visit these classrooms to observe strong practices.
The education department used the occasion – which critics may cite as a setback for the federal government, which devolves some power back to the states – to boast about the improvements the Obama administration has brought to the now 15-year-old legislation.
Since this flexibility was first granted in 2012, read the announcement, the Department has partnered with state and district leaders to provide relief from some provisions of NCLB in exchange for taking bold actions to improve student outcomes and ensure equity for all students.
Under NCLB, schools were given “many ways to fail but very few opportunities to succeed,” foisting one-size-fits-all solutions upon a vast menagerie of states with very different student populations.
Today’s announcement added three years of increased flexibility to Alabama’s addendums to the law. The other states that successfully petitioned for more legal wiggle room were Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Mississippi, New Hampshire and Wisconsin.