Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Why Civil Rights Groups Fear ‘No Child’ Waivers Could Leave At-Risk Kids Behind

Parents speak during a public hearing with state and district officials on intervention plans for Indianapolis' John Marshall High School in June 2012. Four out of five students in the school at the time were black.

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Parents speak during a public hearing with state and district officials on intervention plans for Indianapolis' John Marshall High School in June 2012. Four out of five students in the school at the time were black.

It was one of No Child Left Behind‘s strictest requirements — one designed to close the nation’s persistent achievement gap between at-risk and more-privileged students:

Before federal education officials exempted Indiana from the national accountability law, schools tracked the performance of students in every socioeconomic and ethnic “subgroup” in their building. If any one subgroup was underperforming, the feds wouldn’t consider the school to have made “Adequate Yearly Progress.”

But after the feds granted Indiana’s waiver from this and other ‘No Child’ requirements, the state now tracks these groups collectively, not individually.

Across the nation, 41 states have now received NCLB waivers. To paraphrase this piece from the Associated Press, civil rights groups fear these waivers are dimming the spotlight on traditionally-underachieving student groups:

NCLB’s ‘Subgroups’

White students
African American students
Asian students
Native American students
Hispanic students
Limited English proficient students
Special education students
Students receiving free & reduced price lunch

The resulting patchwork of rules — from Miami to Seattle — has given states more freedom to implement plans to boost education but has allowed almost 2,300 schools to shed their label of seriously troubled, according to numbers compiled at the Campaign for High School Equity.

“It appears to us that waivers could lead to fewer students of color receiving the support they need,” said Rufina Hernandez, executive director for the Campaign for High School Equity.

Her coalition of education reformers, civil rights activists and policy analysts studied the 34 states and the District of Columbia that had received waivers from No Child Left Behind before April. (Another six states and a collection of individual districts in California have won waivers since then.)

The results show students who are at the highest risk of dropping out are often no longer tracked as carefully as they were before Education Secretary Arne Duncan began exempting states from some requirements if they promised to better prepare their students for college or careers.

The Education Department had no immediate reaction to the study but [U.S. Secretary of Education Arne] Duncan has been vocal in calling for a rewrite of No Child Left Behind that would render his waivers moot.

That re-write, however, is stuck in a Congressional logjam — and not just because of D.C.’s partisan atmosphere. In this Washington Post op-ed, Duncan writes:

No Child Left Behind has given the country transparency about the progress of at-risk students. But its inflexible accountability provisions have become an obstacle to progress and have focused schools too much on a single test score. NCLB is six years overdue for an update, and nearly all agree that it should be replaced with a law that gives systems and educators greater freedom while continuing to fulfill the law’s original promise.

Others have argued a hyper-focus on the achievement gap is counterproductive to the debate over the future of No Child Left Behind.

But what about Indiana? School Matters‘ Steve Hinnefeld wrote last year that even though Indiana doesn’t track individual subgroups now, he says revisions state education officials filed at the time made clear they weren’t backing away from the goal of closing the achievement gap:

No, it won’t walk away from holding schools accountable for subgroups of students that weren’t supposed to be left behind: racial and ethnic minorities, economically disadvantaged students, special-needs students and English learners.

The state’s original waiver application, filed hurriedly in November, wasn’t at all clear about this. But the revised request, posted on the USDOE webpage, says schools will be expected to raise the performance of all subgroups to keep them on track to meeting state goals.

It’s not obvious how this will work. The traditional No Child Left Behind subgroups aren’t referenced in the new A-to-F school grading criteria approved last week by the State Board of Education. Instead the grading system relies on two “super subgroups,” the bottom 25 percent of students at each school and the top 75 percent. Schools get bonus points if either group shows “high growth” on test scores.

But the Indiana NCLB waiver document says schools will also be graded on the performance of each of the traditional subgroups. This is arguably a good thing – making it harder for schools to ignore achievement gaps if their overall scores are decent. But again, it remains to be seen how it will work.


  • Dianne Flowers

    How do you think holding kids back through the school year is gonna help them at the end of the year on their test ? I have a nephew that is at Tucker because the Teachers feel that is where he should be & he is only there a few hours a day home by 11:00 now what happens with the other part of the school day ? they say he was bad walked out of class how many kids do that ? how many kids are bad in school ? that are still there a full day in regular school as he should be 4th grade he is too smart he knows he don’t belong with the kids they have him with he don’t have Disabilities, on no medication for ADD or none of that Doctor haven’t said he was slow because he is not….If this is the case half of the school should be half a day..This is a new year & they start him out like this..last year they just keep him kicked out with no kind of schooling . Walked out of class (kicked out) yelled in hall ( kicked out) hit student (kicked out) he get hit by students (we get excuses ) Teacher beat him up one day at Allen he was a Sub..did he go to jail NO ! they had him leave before Police arrived at school…………..I feel there is a better way to handle this where the kids can get all there school year. He isn’t doing no more that some 9 year old. This child is very smart in areas you wouldn’t believe..Kids tease you because you are a slow bus. & you aren’t slow you can’t go to school with your Siblings & they are as bad as you..They aren’t always bad kids have bad days too..BUT ! not getting to get his education because of some Hateful Teachers & Principles & a Mother that don’t understand what they giving her to sign.. When they do things to the kids they don’t even send home no note or anything they just do it & give her a story she goes for it to make it easier but! the child is being treated unfair. 4th grader out of school never in our days noway Teacher didn’t kick us out for the least little thing they loved us & wanted us to do good that meant they was good Teachers not now days it’s like > What Ever ! not my worry, but ! it is because you are the one that didn’t teach them nothing.Think about that.. not just one child many children..WOW ! Indiana is low in scores.worried about what they is their hair…what shoes they got on….not how smart or how much they need help just look as you say & all is good that is so sad…NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND SO YOU SAY……WHAT IS GRADUATION SAYING ?. NOT MANY AS SHOULD BE THAT’S FOR SURE.

    Good Day & God Bless……..Thanks for reading, hopefully something will be done if this isn’t the right area for this letter please forward to them..Thanks again

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