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Waiver? What's a Waiver?

By Myrdin Thompson

Normally I have little problem writing. I carry around a rather thick, black notebook where I constantly jot down thoughts culled from all the reading I do. As a self-described "edu-geek" I spend my days highlighting articles and reports which break down the data into smaller bits of analysis. I constantly urge other parents to do the same, on some similar level, so they can contribute healthily and respectfully to the conversation that is going on around them.

nclbBut when it was recently announced that ten states were granted waivers from No Child Left Behind (NCLB), I found myself at a surprising loss for words. Because while I know that this is a good decision, I fear it is only a temporary fix to the larger issues and concerns that face us in education, and that this course of action will not, as is hoped, compel our elected leaders in Washington to address the mounting problems in education, but instead have them sit back and wait to see how our states "solve" these problems. 

So to all the parents in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, it's time for you to go back to school and become educated about what your State Department of Education promised in its waiver package (you can find that out here, where all ten states ESEA flexibility request packages can be found along with feedback letters and the final approval letter). You might be asking why? What's my role in this wave of waivers? 

We are the "at home" teachers, right? So we know that what happens in the classroom impacts what happens in our home environments. And knowing that our schools have been measured in a way that doesn't accurately reflect the learning that is taking place in our child's classroom and that our schools have been held to an unattainable standard, means recognizing that some form of relief had to be prescribed. But we also know that waivers do not mean an end of student assessments. In fact, the granting of waivers is just a sort of reinforcement of many of the changes these states have already initiated as either part of their Race to the Top application (and some did receive Rttt grants) or had begun implementing because of educational trends.

As part of the waivers, states had to agree to adopt more rigorous curriculum and assessment methods. Adopting Common Core was a great, first step, and for many of these states they are already working on new systems of measuring teacher/principal effectiveness. These changes may not come into your schools with fanfare and a parade, but they will be coming. And since change can be uncomfortable, complicated, and messy at times, we need to be in place to provide much needed support and stability. Some school communities will embrace change, and be willing to adopt new methods and new ideas. Others will cling to "but we've always done it this way" in their approach to education. And despite the notion that by removing NCLB will remove the pressure, the reality is that now a different kind of pressure exists on these states to prove that the waivers will work. That pressure is on everyone, including our children. Which means our engagement is critical if we are to help our children and schools navigate this change. Why? Because we are the "at home" teachers. 

Waivers for most will mean a new curriculum, new assignments, and new(er) assessments. This means we need to create a new conversation when we dialogue with our schools. We can either be part of this conversation or we can react to the conversation. Sadly, parents are now the ones being left behind in some circumstances, overwhelmed by this process, and wondering if their children are getting the quality education they need to be college/career ready. Every day I speak with parents who are confused by what exactly Common Core is and why everyone is celebrating waivers. Parents ask:

  • Does this mean no more testing? More testing? Less testing?

  • Does this mean my child's school will no longer be considered failing/or will be now considered failing?

  • Does this mean that my child will be considered failing even if they have been called a success in the past?

  • Does this mean that inadequate teachers or school leadership will be removed?

Since those questions are being asked, our education leaders need to be able to communicate answers to those questions. Parents (as leading stakeholders) were supposed to be part of the waiver request package. This means that perhaps in your state, members of your State PTA or leaders from other advocacy organizations were contacted to help provide key input in the application process. You should contact your parent group leaders to see what will happen next in this process, what role they, and even you, will perhaps have as states move forward. And as more states apply (the second round deadline is February 28 and the third-round is September 6) it's important to voice your thoughts (respectfully) as part of the process, so you can know what promises will be made...and how they will be kept.

So parents, waivers will not mean "waving goodbye" to accountability, they simply mean being held accountable in a different way. It means that how our students and school communities are going to be evaluated, how teachers will be teaching (and how that teaching will be measured and weighed), and how our children learn will be changing. Instead of letting the change be what is focused on in our schools, let's make sure that our children and their educational success remains the focus. What good does a waiver do any of us if our children continue to be left behind?

No pressure, right?

Posted on February 23, 2012 by Myrdin Thompson

Myrdin Thompson has been a public school parent, volunteer and advocate since 2002. Currently the Mom Congress delegate representing Kentucky, she is also a United Nations Foundation Champion for Shot@Life and was recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change. She writes about education and parenting/family engagement on her blog  and you can follow her on Twitter. 

©2012 Myrdin Thompson All rights reserved. Please contact for permission to reprint. 

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Tags: *Educational Policy, Ed Reform, Mom Congress, NCLB

Posted February 23, 2012 by rick ackerly
Thank you, Myrdin 


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