Early Ed Watch

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Department of Education Waivers Exclude Much Mention of Early Education

Published:  February 10, 2012

President Obama announced this week that 10 states will receive waivers of some of the most punitive provisions of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), kicking off a year of focus on how and if states will start changing their systems to align with the administration’s priorities. But as we’ve written before, the waiver applications didn’t require any focus on early education, whether it be improving children’s access to pre-K and full-day kindergarten or simply helping K-3 teachers improve.

So far, the 10 states that will receive waivers are: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

Of the eleven states that applied, only one – New Mexico – was denied a waiver; state officials are now coordinating with the U.S. Department of Education to rewrite the application and earn a waiver.  Three others – Georgia, Oklahoma and Florida – were issued waivers on a conditional basis, and have to submit tweaks to their applications.  Another 28 states (plus Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.) have filed intents to submit applications ahead of the next deadline on February 28.

Instead of seizing the opportunity to stress early education, the administration included only three focuses in its waiver applications: curriculum standards and student assessments; teacher and principal evaluation systems; and accountability systems. Some of these will touch the K-3 grades, of course, but the Department did not insist on any early education concentration, such as state alignment of those standards with pre-K programs, professional development for elementary school principals to help them connect with early childhood programs, or professional development and teacher evaluation systems that include a focus on preK-3rd grade teachers. (Because most states do not have statewide standardized testing data from the grades before third grade, these teachers are at risk of being an afterthought in teacher-evaluation systems that use testing data.)

The waiver applications show that, with a few exceptions, most states neglected to include much substance specifically addressing early learning programs.  One exception: New Jersey designed an “early warning system” to encourage academic interventions in first through twelfth grade students. And Tennessee said it is already providing K-2 professional development as it begins to implement the Common Core Standards.

We hope the next round of applications includes more of an early education focus, but without any such mandate from the Department of Education, that may be unlikely. For more news about NCLB waivers over the next few weeks, check back with Early Ed Watch.

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