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June 26. 2013 10:34PM

No Child Left Behind waiver gives schools flexibility

New Hampshire's Department of Education can proceed with statewide education reforms geared to the specific learning, teaching and administrative needs of its schools since it got a waiver from many of the federal No Child Left Behind Act requirements Wednesday.

The waiver granted by the U.S. Department of Education means state education officials can improve academic achievement and quality of instruction without putting federal Title 1 funding at risk. The state has two years to provide evidence that its accountability and improvement plan works.

"This is very exciting for our state. We are very deserving (of this). We are one of the highest performing states in the country" in terms of New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) test results, New Hampshire Education Commissioner Virginia Barry said.

The waiver enables schools to extract themselves from the formula currently in force under No Child Left Behind and focus on the lowest-performing schools and those with the widest achievement gap where students most need help, she added.

About 75 percent of the state's total schools would have been labeled as "failing" next year under the formula set by the 2001 federal education law, Barry said.

"If we were to use the formula that is currently in place, states all over the country would be experiencing high levels of schools failing," she added.

"The formula has failed the country. The waiver allows us to really look at our schools more carefully. It also enables us to place an emphasis on improved teaching and learning and a better understanding of how students learn and teachers teach," Barry continued.

In last year's draft letter requesting the waiver, state educators called NCLB an "outdated federal education law" which does not support a "rational accountability structure or the focused and meaningful supports schools need."

State educators instead developed a plan to decentralize accountability and establish regional networks to help underperforming schools, administrators and teachers; local school districts would be able to develop their own specific plans.

"We can identify priority schools, schools in need of assistance for various reasons. So it allows us to use our resources more effectively," Barry explained.

It also allows schools "greater discretion" in how schools use Title 1 funds to support individual school needs.

Title 1 money is distributed to school districts based on the number of students from low-income families and other variables.

The education reforms will be implemented at all of the state's 468 public elementary and secondary schools — including charter schools. Of these, 224 receive Title 1 funds.

"New Hampshire is now free to pursue more effective and innovative ways to address the needs of all our students and prepare them for the jobs of the 21st century economy," Gov. Maggie Hassan said in a statement.

New Hampshire joins 38 other states and the District of Columbia in receiving waivers from NCLB.

kmarchocki@unionleader.com


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