SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California education leaders agreed Thursday to join 37 other states that have sought relief from the most strenuous requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law, which expects all students to be at grade level in math and reading by 2014.
Saying the measure had confused parents, demoralized teachers and drained money from programs that would do more to boost student achievement, the state Board of Education voted unanimously to ask the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver from certain funding and achievement requirements.
California school officials want to be freed from the 2014 target date and are seeking permission to spare the 3,866 public schools defined last year as low-performing under No Child standards from having to hire outside tutors and pay to bus students who elect to attend a different school.
The state also wants to opt out of a program the federal government uses to identify schools in need of improvement and replace it with a revamped version of its own school report cards.
Eleven states have received similar waivers, and another 27 have applied. California, which has more than 6 million public school students, the most in the nation, is seeking the same latitude while also begging off some of the conditions the Obama administration has set for granting the relief.
For example, under the proposal approved by the state school board, California would not have to implement a teacher and principal evaluation system to be eligible for the waiver. School officials say they don't have the money.
Similarly, the state is seeking to be excused from the timetable Education Secretary Arne Duncan has set for states to improve how they prepare and evaluate students for college or career programs.
Fred Tempes, a director at the Sacramento-based education consulting firm WestEd who led discussions about the state's specialized waiver, said it was unclear how California's approach will be received in Washington.
"I'm sure they would love to have California in the 'Be Granted A Waiver' column because it shows that California is joining the movement that Arne Duncan is leading here," Tempes said. "But the waiver California is requesting is not the waiver that Arne Duncan was offering. This waiver is, 'the ball's in your court now' kind of thing to the feds."
No Child Left Behind passed with bipartisan support and was regarded as a signature accomplishment of George W. Bush's presidency, but governors throughout the country have lobbied Congress and the White House to replace it amid a growing consensus that the 2014 student proficiency target was unrealistic.
Duncan proposed the waivers last fall as a stopgap until Congress acts to update the law, which has been up for renewal since 2007.
California is one of the states that has fallen farther and farther behind in meeting the goal based on student performance on standardized tests developed by the state. Last year, 6,526 of the state's 9,875 public schools, or 66 percent, did not meet their annual improvement targets for math and English proficiency.
Meanwhile, 3,866 of the 6,174 schools that receive federal dollars because of the number of low-income students they serve were designated for program improvement plans triggered by No Child Left Behind.
California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said the state's application, which must be submitted by Sept. 6, is designed "to provide relief from a failed system, a way for districts to get out from under the current system, to have the relief they need more than ever with the budget crisis, relief to target funds where they are needed most."
State school board President Michael Kirst said he was optimistic the Department of Education would grant the waiver.