NCLB waiver is welcome -- not whole solution

The idea of granting states waivers from the widely criticized No Child Left Behind federal education standards is supposedly based on a clear premise: A waiver is not a pass, but an expectation of a credible alternative.

Local commentator Karl Douglass, in his column on the front page of today’s Forum, makes a compelling case that Georgia, with the leadership of state Superintendent John Barge, has done a good job of crafting such an alternative to NCLB. It’s called the College and Career Ready Performance Index, and all Georgians -- whether they have children in public school or not -- should hope CCRPI is more than just a matter of replacing one educratic acronym with another.

In theory at least, it indeed sounds like something more substantial than that. The new Georgia standards still rely in part on standardized tests. But they also put more emphasis on measurable student progress than on arbitrary across-the-board benchmarks, and there are new ways of measuring and awarding student credits for academic achievement.

What all this will mean for Georgia public schools in general and Muscogee County schools in particular remains to be seen.

One practical question has to do with the transfers that NCLB allowed children in “needs improvement” schools to make, regardless of available space. It created near-chaos here: So many students transferred to high schools too crowded to accommodate them that the school district had to create “annexes.” The result was hundreds of students in facilities that were their new “host” schools in little more than name.

The new guidelines stipulate that students can transfer only to schools where there is space, and transportation will not necessarily be provided. At the very least, that will save precious money.

Even early supporters of No Child Left Behind, which passed with bipartisan support, soon admitted it was a flawed model. But the one important way Georgia’s new standards do not differ from NCLB is that is still outcome-based. Indeed, that’s the condition on which waivers are supposed to have been granted.

That means Muscogee County schools, after some abysmal performance reports over the last couple of years, will now have both an opportunity and an obligation to move forward under different achievement measures. Superintendent Susan Andrews said the new model “appears to be looking more at student growth than meeting an artificial bar.”

In reactions to the NCLB waiver and the new state standards from local educators and administrators, “flexibility” and “fairness” are words that come up again and again.

One of the provisions of CCRPI is that underperforming schools are to be given three years, with the choice of using their own teachers instead of tutors, to show improvement. That should be ample time to find out just how much of our problem inflexibility and unfairness have been.