Joined by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and a host of Connecticut's political elite, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Tuesday that Connecticut was one of eight states to receive a second round of waivers excusing it from the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act.
Malloy and Duncan hailed as helping it to achieve the waiver, and Duncan went as far as to say that the education reform legislation made Connecticut "one of the leading states in this round" of applications.
“Connecticut’s plan to adopt college and career-ready standards, elevate and support teachers, and focus resources in order to close the achievement gap will include hundreds more schools and thousands more children who were invisible under NCLB," Duncan said. "Connecticut’s hard work and collaboration show that state and local leaders are ready to lead the way in education reform."
Malloy said the waiver grants Connecticut public schools greater flexibility to spend Federal Title 1 dollars, avoids a situation where about half of the state's public schools would be deemed as "failing" under NCLB guidelines and creates a better system to accurately measure student achievement.
“Receiving a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act will ensure that Connecticut has the flexibility to implement a reform plan that fits our state, one that is not bound strictly by federal mandates,” Malloy said. “For years, while other states implemented education reform plans, Connecticut stuck to the old way of doing things and many of our students suffered for it. But the debate we had over the last few months sent a powerful message – that we were finally serious about turning around struggling schools. Now that we have a reform plan in place, we will begin working in earnest to close the nation’s largest achievement gap."
Duncan said that he was "closely monitoring" Connecticut's efforts to pass an education reform bill over the past several months, and said the bill that the legislature ultimately passed helped make Connecticut one of the strongest of 26 states that applied for a second round of waivers to be excused from NCLB provisions. The other seven states to receive the waiver Tuesday were Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island. Eleven states were granted waivers under a first round of applications in February of 2012.
"Of the 26 applications we received this round, Connecticut was amongst the strongest and most creative and innovative, so that takes a lot of handwork," Duncan said.
Malloy's office said that Connecticut's application was built around four key principals: programs designed to prepare students for college or the workforce; a shift toward state defined standards to measure student performance that "sets the bar higher" than the NCLB provisions; a focus on supporting effective instruction and leadership; and a concentration on reducing "excessive paperwork" and "red tape."
“This waiver application captures the education reform activities Connecticut is genuinely and vigorously in the process of pursuing," said Connecticut Education Secretary Stefan Pryor. "From Common Core implementation to low performing school turnaround to educator evaluation, we were able to convey Connecticut’s authentic agenda in our presentation to the federal Education Department. We’re proud that our state’s application has been approved and we’re very grateful for the flexibility Secretary Duncan is enabling us to exercise in pursuit of our Connecticut agenda."
Duncan said that the U.S. Department of Education has adopted the policy that the No Child Left Behind Act, one of the signature pieces of legislation of George W. Bush's presidency that mandates that public schools must meet certain mandated levels of proficiency on standardized tests or face penalties, is "largely broken now," which is why so many states are trying to opt out of it.
"It was passed 10 years ago, it was supposed to be reauthorized five years ago, and the country's…since moved so far," Duncan said. "The law is very, very punitive. I would say there are about 50 ways to fail and the only reward for success is you are not labeled a failure. That makes no sense whatsoever."
Meriden Superintendent Mark Benigni, who attended the announcement at the State Capitol in Hartford Tuesday afternoon, said he was excited by the waiver, because it would provide Connecticut public schools with more "flexibility" when it came to how they could spend federal education dollars.
"Flexibility in how we spend Title 1 funds is very important. The law has forced us to hire outside tutors, but we've never seen any studies that suggest that that is benefiting students," Benigni said. "Now we can use that money in a way that provides more creativity or in a way that we think will fit our students needs better."