Missouri will consider No Child Left Behind waiver

Commissioner of Education Chris L. Nicastro traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to learn details from President Barack Obama and federal education officials about the administration’s proposal for waiving provisions of No Child Left Behind.

The waiver allows states to set their own standards as long as they meet basic guidelines established by the administration, according to federal education officials.

The U.S. Department of Education says the NCLB waiver package is not a competitive application; the waiver is available to any state wanting to design and submit their own accountability programs based on mutually ambitious targets. Some states are approaching the offer with caution, including Missouri.

“We are pleased to be able to consider such a waiver, but it is too early to say whether the state of Missouri will apply,” Nicastro stated in a news release from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. “We remain absolutely committed to accountability, but we believe the outdated NCLB accountability system is broken. The need to fix it is urgent.”

Whether the state applies for a waiver or waits for Congress to reauthorize the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Nicastro hopes the state can eventually transition to a single accountability system which serves both state and federal purposes.

She believes the recent work for Missouri’s new school improvement and accountability program, MSIP 5, could provide a strong foundation for such a system that will continue to drive student achievement.

“At first glance, it appears the waiver could support our state’s high standards and accountability principles,” Nicastro stated. “We are already establishing a framework to push toward excellence, reduce gaps in academic achievement and ensure all students graduate from high school ready for college and careers. Barring any surprises in the fine print, it may be a good fit.”

Nicastro said state officials will examine the waiver criteria closely in the weeks ahead and seek input from educators and non-educators across the state before submitting a recommendation to the State Board of Education on whether to proceed.

The waiver package was designed with input from many state education officials and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Last month, Nicastro spoke with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about the needs and goals for Missouri public education and what she hoped to see in a revised federal accountability system.

The first application deadline is mid-November. States needing more time may apply later.