Oklahoma loses, Indiana wins federal education waiver

The Obama administration has stopped exempting Oklahoma from the toughest requirements of No Child Left Behind, the federal education law, after the state opted to drop the Common Core academic standards and revert to its old K-12 guidelines in math and reading.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Education said Thursday they will not extend Oklahoma’s waiver from No Child Left Behind because it depended in part on the state’s commitment to higher academic standards to prepare students for college and careers.

In May, Oklahoma lawmakers voted to scrap the Common Core State Standards, the national academic standards that were set to take effect there in the school year that just started.

The legislature sent its state board of education back to the drawing board with directions to write entirely new standards by 2016, and the state has has reverted to old standards, which are widely seen as mediocre.

The administration’s move came a day after Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education, alleging the agency was using waivers and grants to illegally coerce states to adopt the Common Core.

The loss of a federal waiver means that all of Oklahoma’s public school students must now be proficient in math and reading in grades 3 through 12 or their schools face various sanctions and restrictions on how they spend federal dollars.

Federal officials said Oklahoma schools will get a grace period of one year before they have to meet some requirements — such as providing free tutoring and allowing students at “failing” schools to transfer to better-performing schools — since the school year in Oklahoma is already underway.

Gov. Mary Fallin (R), who once supported the Common Core but has become a critic as opposition to the standards has grown, blasted the Obama administration.

“It is outrageous that President Obama and Washington bureaucrats are trying to dictate how Oklahoma schools spend education dollars,” Fallin said in a statement. “Because of overwhelming opposition from Oklahoma parents and voters to Common Core, Washington is now acting to punish us. This is one more example of an out-of-control presidency that places a politicized Washington agenda over the well-being of Oklahoma students. I join parents, teachers, and administrators in being outraged by this decision, and I will fight it with every tool available to the state of Oklahoma.”

But another state that has tossed out the Common Core standards — Indiana — got its waiver renewed by federal officials on Thursday.

Indiana was one of the first states to adopt the Common Core in 2010 but dropped it in March. Officials in that state worked through the spring and into summer to write new, replacement standards that largely resemble the Common Core and were certified by state university officials as rigorous enough to prepare students for college-level work.

That was enough to satisfy officials at the U.S. Department of Education.

“Oklahoma was unable to demonstrate that its students are learning high standards this year, which the state committed to do under its (waiver) request,” said Dorie Nolt, a department spokeswoman. “State leaders still have the opportunity to demonstrate that their standards are rigorous or design new standards to ensure their students are ready for college, career and life, just like Indiana and several other states have done.”

Education officials also granted a waiver renewal to Kansas on Thursday, a state that has adopted the Common Core along with 42 other states and the District of Columbia.

There are two states — Virginia and Texas — which never adopted the Common Core but received waivers under No Child Left Behind.

Oklahoma is the second state to lose its waiver from No Child Left Behind. The other state is Washington, which failed to get a renewal because the Obama administration did not endorse the way the state intends to evaluate teachers.

Anne Hyslop, an analyst with the non-profit Bellwether Education Partners Associates, said Oklahoma’s waiver loss likely will mean changes for a small number of struggling schools in Tulsa, Oklahoma City and other urban areas but that the majority of public schools in the state probably will not feel much difference, at least in the coming school year.

“For a lot of parents, it’s not going to change their daily experience with their child’s school and teacher,” she said. “It’s more of a headache for the bureaucrats than for parents and educators. It’s chaotic.”

No Child Left Behind, which was signed into law by President Bush in 2002, was due for reauthorization in 2007. Despite widespread agreement by both Republicans and Democrats that the federal law is unrealistic and even damaging, Congress has failed to come up with an improved version.

The Obama administration, responding to growing pressure from governors, began issuing temporary waivers in 2011 to excuse states from the more onerous requirements of No Child Left Behind, in return for their pledge to accept certain education reforms favored by the administration.

Forty-three states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico currently have waivers, 35 of which expire this summer. Of those, 34 have asked for waiver extensions.

Lyndsey Layton has been covering national education since 2011, writing about everything from parent trigger laws to poverty’s impact on education to the shifting politics of school reform.
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