At the beginning of the school year, I listed my top three Ohio stories for the coming year. The last of which was the question of whether or not Ohio was going apply for a waiver from No Child Left Behind. When I updated the stories with my mid-term report, I wondered whether it was worth it to take the waiver deal knowing that the law will most likely get changed before 2014 anyway.
Time to stop wondering. Ohio is going forward with a waiver application.
Of the three stated goals of Ohio’s application, the most laudable is the goal of closing achievement gaps between ethnic subgroups. Unfortunately, in my six years of teaching so far I have taught exactly two Asian, two African-Americans, and no Latino students. The effect of this goal on my school district could only be measured in relation to other schools, and how we bring our predominately white student body up to the level of the Asian subgroup that is in the lead. What are not mentioned is what will happen with the students with a socioeconomic disadvantage, which makes up more than a third of our student population, and students with special needs. I can’t imagine that those achievement gaps are not going to be addressed in the application. The general idea of every student have the right to a quality education looks like it will be upheld at least on the surface.
The other two stated goals I am less enthusiastic about. Taking away options for students in struggling schools does not make sense to me. It sounds more like a bone being thrown to the Ohio Education Association. The loss of the free tutoring was probably going to happen anyway, because as the Dispatch has noted, there had been some problems with the services anyway. The changing of the grading system to letter grades is also not a huge deal, either, except for the promise by State Superintendent Heffner that there will be fewer A’s.
Many of the points of the application already fit in with Ohio’s Race to the Top program. So, it looks like the Ohio Department of Education saw the waiver application as the next logical step. That is good as far as it goes, but the Obama Administration has been notorious for hidden details, such as what we see in Obamacare. The fact also remains that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (the official name for No Child Left Behind) will be changed in 2013, regardless of whether Barack Obama is still the 44th president or Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum have become the 45th president. The political parties are too close together in their philosophy, making this a nice piece of low-hanging fruit for the next Congress. In light of these facts and the flaws of NCLB, smarter people than me like Mike Petrilli have wondered if the waiver process is worth it. Then there is the open question as to whether this is even legal.
Ohio is well on its way to taking Arne Duncan’s deal. Now, we’ll find out if the deal is actually a good one or not.