Arizona, other states, get temporary waiver for ‘No Child Left Behind’

The Education Department granted Arizona’s request for flexibility under the No Child Left Behind Act so it could continue moving ahead. (Photo by woodleywonderworks via flickr/Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON – Arizona was one of seven states granted a temporary waiver Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education from provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Federal officials said the decision to grant a one-year “flexibility request,” a renewal of a previous waiver, was done to let Arizona “continue implementing its plans to promote innovative locally tailored strategies” to help students, close achievement gaps and improve teaching, among other goals.

A state official welcomed Thursday’s announcement.

“I think flexibility from the onerous requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is important,” said Charles Tack, an Arizona Department of Education spokesman, referring to the formal name of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Tack said there are “some expectations within that piece of legislation that would deleteriously impact our schools if they were kept in place,” he said.

Arizona was one of three states, along with Arkansas and New Hampshire, to get a one-year extension Thursday. The other states, Alabama, Connecticut, Mississippi and Wisconsin, were granted three-year extensions Thursday.

The letter to Arizona said a one-year extension was being granted “in light of continuing civil rights concerns” over the state’s program for teaching English-language learners. If the state took further action to address those concerns over the next year, the federal department would consider another extension of the waiver.

Tack said Arizona officials had only intended “to apply for the one additional year. The key for us was to get something in place that our schools could work with.”

“Our priority was to make sure that for the upcoming year that our schools were not going to be adversely impacted,” Tack said.

In announcing the extension, the federal department cited Arizona’s efforts under the previous waiver to apply “research-based stratgies” to improve its lowest-performing schools. It also pointed to the state’s move to allow intervention in underperforming schools to “fit the context of the school and community,” including online school communities.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a prepared statement that flexibility for states, coupled with a push for reform, has led to “remarkable strides and bold actions to improve student outcomes.”

It comes as Congress is debating a reauthorization and revamping of the much-criticized No Child Left Behind Act.

Duncan has urged Congress to pass a bipartisan renewal that would give schools the resources they need, account for changing schools whose students are not meeting standards, address funding for schools with many low-income students, and more.

The department will work with states to transition to a new act if Congress reauthorizes the law, a release said.

Tack said that help would be welcome, but that’s not what the state is focused on right now.

“We don’t know where this is going to end up depending on how Congress acts or what a possible new administration wants to see out of either ESEA or its replacement,” Tack said.

“For us, it’s a matter of, ‘Let’s get our schools taken care of right now,’ and then keep working with what the federal government as we need to,” he said.