DES MOINES — The U.S. Department of Education won’t approve Iowa’s No Child Left Behind waiver request until the state agrees to changes in how it ranks teachers.
That’s the gist of a letter Gov. Terry Branstad and Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass made public Thursday along with an admonition for the Legislature.
“Responsibility for the denial of this request lies squarely at the feet of the Iowa Legislature, which did too little to improve our schools despite repeated warnings,” Branstad said in a statement that accompanied the release of the letter. “The education reform plan Lt. Gov. (Kim) Reynolds and I proposed would have ensured a waiver from the onerous federal No Child Left Behind law.”
No Child Left Behind is a 2001 law that required states to develop standardized basic skills tests for their students. The law also required that the percentage of students who meet or exceed the standards set on the test increase each year until 2014 when 100 percent of students are expected to reach the benchmark.
So far, 37 states — including Iowa — have requested waivers from certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act.
As of Thursday, 19 waivers have been granted: 11 of 11 in the first round and eight of 26 in the second round.
So far, no request has been rejected outright, and even in the letter made public Thursday, U.S. Department of Education officials express interest in continuing to work with the state on the request.
The federal government requires that states adopt an evaluation system in which teachers and principals can be put into at least three categories — not effective, effective and highly effective — in order to get a waiver.
Such a system was proposed by the Governor’s Office in the last legislative session, but lawmakers instead opted to put together a panel that would look at different evaluation systems and report back to the General Assembly.
Republican House Speaker Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha said the House’s bill included broader reform that may have met the criteria to get the federal waiver, but in negotiations with the Democrat-backed Senate much of it was removed.
“Obviously we’re open to a much broader-based bill,” he said. “I think the bill we passed, while it might not be enough to qualify for the No Child Left Behind waiver, I do think there are some meaningful pieces in there.”
“According to the information in your request, the Iowa Department of Education does not currently have authority to ensure implementation of teacher and principal evaluation and support systems,” Deborah Delisle, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, wrote in the letter. “Because of these constraints, the department is not able to approve Iowa’s request for flexibility at this time.”
Delisle’s letter came in response to a May 30 letter Glass sent to the federal department to “respectfully request further guidance on any option that may be available to the state at this time” after the Legislature chose to create a task force instead of change the evaluation system.
“We worked with the U.S. Department of Education on this, but we kept hitting this statutory block,” Glass said. “They left the door open for us to let them know if there are any changes.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.