• The U.S. Department of Education announced its “ESEA Flexibility” package late last month. South Dakota plans to apply for a waiver. Learn More. »

• American Education Week is Nov. 13-19. Plan now to celebrate public education in your district.
Learn More. »

• South Dakota has become a “Governing State” in the SMARTER Balanced Consortium. The collection of about 30 states is developing next-generation assessments aligned to the Common Core.
Learn More. »

• Teachers of the Year from across the state will be honored at a banquet during the Systems Change Conference. The 2012 SD Teacher of the Year will be announced that night.
Learn More. »

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Secretary's Column
By Dr. Melody Schopp
Department of Education

Unwrapping the ESEA flexibility package

Last month, the U.S. Department of Education announced its “ESEA Flexibility” package. Through this process, a state can request waivers from 10 provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind. In exchange, the state must agree to address four key principles aimed at improving student achievement and increasing the quality of instruction. It is an all or nothing proposition, meaning that a state must request all 10 waivers and must adhere to all four principles.

Our goal is to apply for a waiver during the February 2012 window.

As you can imagine, the waiver application is complicated. Below is a quick synopsis of some of the major pieces.

--States have flexibility regarding NCLB’s 2013-14 timeline and how we set AMO targets, as long as those targets are “ambitious but achievable.”

How we set AMOs is a huge question moving forward, and we will be using the expertise of the Accountability Work Group to help us determine a process that is ambitious, but also fair and sensible. A large part of this conversation will be centered around the concept of growth and differentiated goals.

--The flexibility package eliminates the school improvement process as we currently know it. In other words, we will no longer be identifying schools “in improvement” and the various levels of improvement. Under the waiver, there is no requirement for a district to develop and implement an improvement plan, provide public school choice and supplemental educational services, and report improvement status on state and local report cards.

In exchange, a state must develop its own differentiated recognition, accountability and support system. Under the waiver system, states must identify what are called “Reward,” “Focus” and “Priority” schools. The general definitions of these schools are outlined in the federal language. This is another area where we will be tapping the Accountability Work Group for feedback and ideas.

--The package includes some flexibility for schoolwide programs. A district would have flexibility to operate a schoolwide program in a Title I school even if that school does not meet the 40 percent poverty threshold – as long as the state has identified the school as a Priority or Focus school and certain interventions are being applied.

--Under the waiver system, a district that does not meet its targets for “highly qualified” teachers would no longer have to develop an improvement plan, nor have the use of its funds restricted pursuant to such a plan. In exchange, states and districts must be moving toward more meaningful evaluation systems. The federal language outlines six criteria that these new systems of evaluation and support must meet. That language includes linking teacher performance to student growth.

While the state’s new standards for teaching, based on the Danielson model, lay the groundwork for this piece, we have much work to do in this area.

As we move forward, I would ask you to keep two things in mind:

1) If our application is approved, this flexibility does not eliminate AYP determinations. As a state, we still must determine and report Adequate Yearly Progress each year. However, we will be measuring against new targets, and we won’t be identifying or reporting “improvement” status based on AYP.

2) This waiver flexibility is being offered by the U.S. Department of Education. Congress has yet to take up reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. If and when they do, the rules could change.

You can learn more about the flexibility package by visiting U.S. Ed’s website. We will continue to advise you of our progress with the waiver application, and we will offer all districts an opportunity to offer feedback on our plan prior to submitting it.

As always, feel free to contact our office with questions.