School Reform: Using Waivers to Incentivize Positive Change
By Alia Smith ‘13
Schools around the country reopened their doors to students last week, from New York to California. There are several waves of reform currently having an effect on those students, many of which would have been unimaginable even ten years ago.
The most recent wave of reforms has come as a result of the current administration’s decision to grant “waivers” to states who’d like more flexibility from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB), or Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Under No Child Left Behind, schools must reach the goal of proficiency for every student by 2014, or face escalating penalties that could include reduce funding, state takeover, and more. As the deadline approaches, though progress has been made, all 50 states and the District of Columbia are still far from ensuring that every student can be deemed proficient, particularly in the focus subjects of math and English Language Arts.
The Obama administration announced in September 2011 that states could apply for waivers that would excuse them from key parts of the No Child Left Behind act in exchange for adopting certain education reforms. In February 2012, President Obama announced that 10 of the 11 states that applied had been granted these waivers: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Tennessee (the Secretary of Education pledged to work closely with the 11th state, New Mexico, to improve its application). An additional 8 states – Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island – were granted flexibility this year, out of 26 who applied.
These waivers essentially build on the work of Race to the Top to induce states to undertake reforms considered key to the Obama Administration. In exchange for not having to meet 2014 targets set by NCLB, states granted waivers must: set new performance targets for both closing achievement gaps and improving overall student achievement; undertake significant efforts to measure teacher effectiveness and develop teachers; create accountability systems that reward schools that were doing well while comprehensively targeting schools that are failing; implement plans that improve educational outcomes for underperforming subgroups of students; and give schools and districts greater flexibility in how they spend Title I federal dollars, while still holding those schools and districts accountable for transparency around achievement gaps.
What’s most fascinating about these waivers are not the reforms being undertaken by states, but the manner in which the federal government has incented states to voluntarily implement those reforms. Much has been made of the Race to the Top initiative, and how, with a relatively small pot of money, the federal government was able to encourage states to change systems that have been inert for decades. The ESEA waivers are the latest evidence of the current administration’s attempts to incentivize voluntary change using a “carrot” approach that contrasts with the “stick” of No Child Left Behind. This innovative strategy has long-reaching implications for all of the students currently returning to classrooms.
In the Strategy workshop, we will walk participants through how to use out-of-the-box, innovative strategies – whether at a small or a large scale – to maximize an organization’s social impact, even with seemingly limited resources.