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Kentucky's Education Commissioner Taking Frustrations With Accountability Waivers to Washington

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday plans to share concerns about a federal waiver process when he and other sate school chiefs meet Friday with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in Washington, D.C.Holliday intends to offer suggestions aimed at quelling concerns some state leaders have regarding the federal regulations that require states to continue to apply for No Child Left Behind waivers. The waiversa allow state education leaders to continue measuring student progress based solely on a state accountability system, as called for in the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. Without the waiver, states would be forced to meet separate requirements from both state and federal accountability systems.In recent blog posts, Holliday has expressed frustration with the process, which he said was “too labor intensive.”“I believe the current waiver process represents a major federal intrusion into the rights of each state to develop, implement, and manage the public education of the state,” he added on his weekly blog.“The federal waiver provided tremendous flexibility to our school districts on how to spend federal funds. All in all, we felt that the waiver was an excellent idea in the short term, however, no one thought waivers were a good idea in the long run.”This will be the second year Kentucky is operating with a No Child Left Behind waiver and Holliday said it is time for “Congress to do its job.”“Congress needs to reauthorize No Child Left Behind,” Holliday told WFPL.  “That’s the root of the problem.”If Congress would reauthorize the act, Holliday said, the waiver process would not be needed and states would be able to maintain the flexibility they seek in the waivers.Language in the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act emphasized the waiver process would be state-led—meaning the application would be focused on making a case as to how a waiver would help states boost innovation and reach educational goals, Holliday said.Federal requirements for attaining a waiver have become conditional—meaning applications must outline how states will meet certain conditions relating to standards, assessments, accountability systems and teacher effectiveness.“We’ve got a lot of experts out in the states,” Holliday said.  “We shouldn’t have to negotiate and meet conditions of folks in D.C. who maybe have never been in a classroom or been a school principal.”He said the conditional process is far too much work for states, which, due to dwindling finances, lack the “manpower.”The first waiver application was 400 pages and took education officials nearly six months to complete, Holliday said.  The second waiver, which he said was promised to be “streamlined” resulted in a near 200-page application that took about 100 days to get through.  (To see the entire 2014 application, go here.)“We think we can get more innovation if we allowed the states to propose innovative ideas for improving teaching and learning,” Holliday said.Kentucky was recently denied a special waiver that would have allowed state leaders to hold off assessing students on the newly adopted science standards.  This means the students will be tested on the first year standards this year.“We needed the waiver,” he said.  “We have learned from teachers that they need at least two years of implementing standards prior to assessing them,” Holliday wrote in a recent blog. “This is only one example of how the current waiver process is stifling innovation. In a recent meeting with other state chiefs, I heard many similar stories from other states.”The meeting will include the board of the Council of Chief State School Officers., for which Holliday is the president.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.