Hanley: Officials look at new accountability system, weigh waivers from No Child Left Behind

JUNEAU — It would be wrong for the state to wait for Congress to overhaul No Child Left Behind and not consider seeking waivers from the federal law, Alaska’s education commissioner said Tuesday.


Michael Hanley said he’s not optimistic the education law will be reauthorized or revamped before the 2012 presidential election. And he said No Child Left Behind isn’t a useful tool for measuring performance.

In September, President Barack Obama’s administration announced plans to let states opt-out of provisions of No Child Left Behind, a legacy policy of President George W. Bush. Obama’s plan will let states avoid certain requirements, like children showing they’re proficient in reading and math by 2014, if the states meet other conditions. Those conditions include imposing their own standards to prepare students for college and careers and setting evaluation standards for teachers and principals.

Most states have submitted letters of intent to seek waivers. Alaska hasn’t decided whether to do so yet.

Alaska’s U.S. senators have criticized the law as a one-size-fits-all approach to education that doesn’t fit Alaska’s needs. Sen. Mark Begich has called for the state to seek waivers; Sen. Lisa Murkowski has been among the lawmakers seeking changes to the law.

Hanley said the state wants to make sure it does things right, not just quickly. He said state education department officials have been discussing “what we think is best for Alaska,” including a “next generation accountability system.” As part of that, he said officials are looking at performance standards, how to assess school progress in an “honest way,” helping kids to be college or career ready and what kind of data should be used in teacher and principal evaluations.

He said he anticipates the proposals being considered “will line up directly with what’s needed for a waiver, and we’re considering the parameters and requirements set up for a waiver.”

The state education board is set to hear proposed new standards next month; if approved, they would go to the public for comment, Hanley said. Gov. Sean Parnell will have the ultimate say on whether a waiver is sought.

The next opportunity for states to seek waivers will be in February, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Hanley said this whole discussion has put the issue of accountability at the fore again. There’s recognition that “what we have as measurements need to be honest, so that we can honestly move forward with what’s best for our kids,” he said.

“If we’re stuck using the NCLB tool, it’s not going to be an accurate tool, and if we’re able to move forward with a waiver... then we’ll just have a different level or different set of accountability tools,” he said. “We won’t be lessening it. We’ll just be changing it to better reflect what’s going on.”


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