New Jersey is one of 10 states that has been granted a waiver from some of the provisions of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) by the U.S. Department of Education. States receiving waivers no longer have to meet 2014 targets set by NCLB. This includes the requirement that 100 percent of students would demonstrate proficiency in all subjects tested. In exchange for the waiver, states must set new performance targets for improving student achievement and closing achievement gaps.
“The goals of No Child Left Behind were the right ones,” President Obama said, pointing to standards, accountability and closing the achievement gap. “We’ve got to stay focused on those goals,” he said. “But we need to do it in a way that doesn’t force teachers to teach to the test, or encourage schools to lower their standards to avoid being labeled as failures.”
To obtain an NCLB waiver, New Jersey had to agree to implement college and career-ready standards and create comprehensive systems of teacher and principal development, evaluation, and support that include factors beyond test scores, such as principal observation, peer review, student work, or parent and student feedback.
New Jersey was already focused on some of these initiatives prior to submission of the waiver application. In the application, the N.J. Department of Education (NJDOE) was able to point to the teacher evaluation pilot and the state’s latest focus on priority schools as evidence of its commitment to reform.
NJEA was pleased to see the waiver included its recommendation that school-level interventions replace overarching district-level initiatives. The NJDOE wrote, “Instead of investing more resources toward school boards and central bureaucracies, we will focus on principals, teachers, and the students they serve.” NJEA agrees that the most effective interventions occur on a grassroots level and include the collaboration of educators, administrators, parents, community members, and students.
The Association also commends the NJDOE for working to re-establish Regional Achievement Centers focused on providing assistance to the neediest school districts, as well as other schools in need. An increased focus on priority schools and the NJDOE’s commitment to provide resources and support including parental and community outreach was also a positive component of the state’s application.
However, NJEA believes that the NJDOE’s waiver application still focuses too heavily on standardized test scores in teacher evaluations. While NJEA agrees that student learning should be taken into account in teacher evaluations, the overemphasis on standardized testing is detrimental to student learning. Furthermore, the Association objects to the NJDOE’s integration of the governor’s legislative agenda into the waiver application.
“Proposals to eliminate tenure and seniority, institute vouchers, and increase charter schools were included even though approval of the waiver bears no legislative authority to accomplish these goals of the Christie administration,” noted NJEA President Barbara Keshishian.
The provisions of the waiver will expire upon congressional reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as No Child Left Behind. NCLB was signed into law in 2002 and was due to be reauthorized last year. Little action is likely prior to the 2012 presidential election.