Indiana No Child education waiver at risk

TOM LoBIANCO Associated Press Published:

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Indiana's efforts to set its own educational course could be at risk if the state fails to correct issues with the implementation of its No Child Left Behind waiver, the U.S. Department of Education said.

Assistant Education Secretary Deborah Delisle told schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz in a letter dated Thursday that federal monitors had identified problems in the state's handling of the waiver during a review in August and September.

The requirements for the waiver were crafted and approved under former Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett, but the implementation has been left to Ritz, who defeated Bennett in the 2012 election.

The issues include handling of teacher and principal evaluations, monitoring of college- and career-ready standards and technical assistance for local school districts. In many cases, the federal monitors say Indiana has failed to follow through on promises it made in its initial waiver plan.

Delisle said she was granting conditional approval of Indiana's request for a waiver but said the state must address numerous steps identified in the letter or risk losing its waiver.

The state has 60 days from its receipt of the letter to respond to the recommended steps, Delisle said.

Ritz said the state has already begun addressing many of the problems identified by the federal monitors and pointed to the creation of new outreach coordinators last year to work with local school districts.

"We have spoken with USED regularly about the work this division is doing, and they have indicated they are pleased with our progress to this date," Ritz said in a statement Friday. "Moving forward, we will respond to (the U.S. Department of Education) within the next two months with amendments that capture steps we have taken to ensure full compliance with our flexibility waiver."

Questions about the teacher evaluations should be directed at state lawmakers, who approved the system in 2011, Altman said. Ritz was criticized last month by supporters of teacher evaluations after the state released data showing that it ranked only 2 percent of teachers as "needing improvement".

Gov. Mike Pence asked members of the State Board of Education to work with Ritz in addressing the issues.

"I am disappointed and concerned by the findings in this report, and the potential consequence that Indiana might lose its waiver effective June 30, 2014, because education is critical to the future success of our children and our state," he said in a letter to board members and Ritz sent Friday.

Indiana was one of 10 states to receive a waiver from the landmark education law in 2012. No Child Left Behind was a hallmark of President George W. Bush's administration and aimed to get all children up to par in math and reading by 2014. But state education leaders increasingly complained that the goal wasn't realistic.

The states excused from following the law were exempt from the 2014 deadline but had to submit plans showing how they would prepare children for college and careers, set new targets for improving achievement among all students, reward the best-performing schools and focus help on the ones doing the worst.

The states also were given the freedom to use science, social studies and other subjects to measure student progress.

Washington became the first state to lose its waiver last week after it refused to implement teacher evaluations. Education Week reported last summer that Arizona, Oregon and Utah had their waivers placed on "high risk" over teacher evaluations, the same status as Washington before losing its waiver.

Indiana's conditional status is a step below "high risk". If the state were to lose its waiver, it would lose control of more than $200 million in federal "Title I" education funds.

The potential setback to Indiana's No Child waiver comes just days after the state approved new education standards. State lawmakers voted this year to make Indiana the first state to withdraw from the national Common Core standards.

That decision means Indiana will have to resubmit its No Child waiver request.

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