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The Danger of District Level ESEA Waivers

April 3, 2012 3 minute Read by Kerri L. Briggs

Apparently, the Department of Education is mulling over the idea of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waivers for districts in states that do not apply for the state-level waivers. As reported by Ed Week, Acting Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, Michael Yudin, more than implied that the Department may eventually pursue these district waivers because several large states - California and Texas, to name two - have indicated they do not plan to apply for waivers. Thus, the more than 1,000 districts in these and other states could become eligible for waivers under the Department’s potential plan. While we understand it’s not likely that every district in every non-waiver state would take the Department up on this offer, the idea of district-level waivers will further complicate an already complex system -- creating the potential for generating over 1,000 different standards, assessment and accountability systems nationwide, and tens if not hundreds within individual states. These potential developments cause us concern and would set a precedent that we would have to oppose. Regardless of your opinion about the relationship No Child Left Behind (NCLB) created between state and federal education authority, district level waivers - essentially usurping state-level control over standards, assessment and accountability - is a whole different ball game. Serious policy issues would inevitably arise. A few to consider include:

  • Students within the same state would be held to different standards and expectations.
  • State funding policies that are tied to standards, assessment and accountability would be in jeopardy.
  • States with constitutional provisions that require common or equal education for all students would become vulnerable to lawsuits.

Simply put, the only positive of district-level waivers appears to be letting those districts off the hook from the expectations of NCLB. This post was written by Kerri Briggs, Director of Education Reform, and Eric Smith, Ed.D., Fellow in Education Reform.