The Long Beach Unified School District, along with seven other district's across the state, has been granted a waiver to implement their own joint accountability system in place of those mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind act.
Developed by a nonprofit consortium of districts known as the California Office to Reform Education (CORE), the School Quality Improvement System is the first district-led waiver plan approved by the U.S. Department of Education since the option was opened to states in 2011. So far, 39 states plus the District of Columbia have been given permission to ignore parts of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in favor of their own school improvement plans, further chipping away at the outdated Bush-era's education overhaul.
CORE's School Quality Improvement System (SQIS) does not allow the districts to escape accountability, but instead places emphasis on shared responsibility on the more local level by replacing the federal government's blanket assessment measures with a student-growth model that supporters say better measures a school's actual needs.
"The districts’ approved plan includes key accountability components that when implemented will surpass the rigor of the current NCLB system and provide an opportunity to expand innovative interventions and practices that can improve student achievement, rather than spending time and resources implementing NCLB’s one-size-fits-all mandates," said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who notified the districts of their waiver's approval Tuesday.
Under the new plan, schools will be looked at holistically and success will be measured across multiple domains such as academic, socio-economic and school culture, while also factoring in school discipline, chronic absenteeism, and non-cognitive factors such as grit or resilience. This is a far cry from the blanket assessments made under NCLB that last year designated 48 of LBUSD's 93 schools as "program improvement schools," meaning that they were required to provide private tutors and other supplementary services and would eventually be subject to more serious sanctions from replacing school staff to restructuring the curriculum.
Soon, all schools in LBUSD will be scored by the new factors on an annual overall School Quality Improvement Index, a 100-point scale that will label schools as "priority schools" (those needing the most assistance), "focus schools" or "reward schools" (aka "schools of distinction"). Since LBUSD does not have any schools that perform in the bottom 5% on math or English tests, no schools will be designated "priority," however three schools--Jefferson Middle School, Burcham K-8 School and Harte Elementary School--will be labeled focus schools.
Schools like Franklin Middle School would benefit the most from the newly approved plan. Designated a program improvement school under NCLB, Franklin would now become a reward school, a testament to the academic growth it has shown for all subgroups of students despite the fact that 100% of the student body is eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
“Secretary Duncan's announcement represents a seismic shift in school accountability for us, replacing an unfair and punitive system with one that rewards improvement and provides real help to schools that need it," said LBUSD Superintendent Christopher J. Steinhauser in a statement. "...Schools like Franklin need to be recognized for the fine job they’re doing."
While the waiver eliminates the need to follow many federal educational mandates, the state's performance and accountability systems remain in place for the affected districts and rankings will still be published by the schools. Interventions, though, will be driven by the waiver designations, which calls for districts to collect and share data in an effort to learn from one another about what is working and how to fix systems when students or schools falling behind. Low-performing schools will be paired with high performing schools with full-time staff being added to facilitate these partnerships.
Accountability for the new SQIS will be provided through annual fall review periods and a peer-partnership program will be implemented to ensure timely and effective implementation of waiver principles. A compliance panel will also be appointed to render compliance decisions to districts based on peer and self-evaluation inputs.
Further accountability and evaluation procedures will be clarified in an amended joint request, which is required to be filed before districts can move forward with the plan into future years.
"Today is a momentous day for schools and students in the Long Beach Unified School District," said LBUSD Superintendent Christopher J. Steinhauser in a statement Tuesday. "Like Governor Brown's recently approved funding formula for schools, this waiver returns much needed control and flexibility to the local level. As educators, we have sought such flexibility for years."
Districts participating in the SQIS include Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Sanger, and Santa Ana Unified School Districts. Together, these CORE districts serve more than a million California students. These districts have committed to fully implement the Common Core State Standards in the 2013-14 school year and will transition to new common co-realigned standards by the 2014-15 school year. Other districts will likely have the opportunity to join the waiver on an annual basis.
A Powerpoint outlining the major tenents of the SQIS plan is embedded below. For extensive and detailed information about the California Office to Reform Education and the School Quality Improvement System, visit coredistricts.org
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