No Child Left Behind Waiver

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Arizona is one of seven states that received a “No Child Left Behind” waiver. Leah Landrum Taylor, director of special projects for the Arizona Department of Education, will tell us more about the waiver for the program that requires states to develop educational assessments.

TED SIMONS: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," the state gets a temporary waiver in the No Child Left Behind program. And after hearing from opposition to the South Mountain Freeway, tonight we hear from those in support. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."

VIDEO: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

TED SIMONS: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. Concerns continue over a plume of wastewater from an abandoned mine in Colorado. The mine discharged an estimated 3 million gallons of contaminated water with 500 gallons per minute still being released. That contaminated water is now reportedly being contained and treated in ponds near the mine. The spill began last week after a cleanup crew supervised by the EPA accidentally breached a debris dam that had formed inside the mine. EPA officials say there appears to be no immediate health hazard, though water samples contained numerous heavy metals including lead and arsenic. The plume is headed toward parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, with the Navajo Nation declaring a state of emergency. The contaminated water could eventually end up in Lake Powell. Arizona is one of seven states to receive a waiver from provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, a program that requires states to implement educational assessment standards. Here to tell us what all that means is Leah Landrum Taylor, director of special projects for the Arizona Department of Education. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

LEAH LANDRUM TAYLOR: Nice to be here.

TED SIMONS: Let's define terms. What is No Child Left Behind?

LEAH LANDRUM TAYLOR: Well, I want to take a little bit of a historical walk, with the No Child Left Behind, why that all came about and quite frankly it was to make sure there were not inequities for children and students and schools so you could have equality within our educational system but if we go back just a little bit with our education and secondary act that we have, with what we call our ESDA waiver, in September, 2011, from that act that was started back in 1965, when 2011 came around, it was an opportunity to take a look at the various states and the U.S. department of education made a decision that it was time for states to not look at them as a one-size-fits-all, and to be able to have some flexibility so the states can go forward and be able to make you know, great strides and achievements throughout education.

TED SIMONS: Thus waivers were granted to certain states?

LEAH LANDRUM TAYLOR: Absolutely, states that would qualify for them and in particular there were certain areas that you have to make sure that you are looking at and measuring when it comes down to qualifying. For example, you have to, you know, look at, for instance, title one, if there are schools that qualify for title one and what those requirements are, you have more of a tendency to have a lean to say that those are schools that need it. But there are so many instances where schools really were having like anemic actions going on where their academic performance was low and this was something that was going on and on and on, so this was a decision to decide what could be done in order to help to close some of those achievement gaps that were going forward and this is one of the measures to move forward with that.

TED SIMONS: So we get the waiver here and this grants more time to implement some of these education plans and I guess some of these plans, we'll go through these really quickly here, includes innovation, locally tailored strategy, those sorts of things, plans to implement the common core, I know that's in there as well, I know the department of education is not crazy with that but as far as efforts to improve the lowest performing schools. It seems like that was key.

LEAH LANDRUM TAYLOR: And that is the key, strong efforts to improve low-performing schools but assessment and accountability is something that was very, very important and going forward with the types of standards, one of the things that the waiver allows is flexibility, even in the standards that a state will set. But as long as those standards are rigorous and they meet the career readiness so that you work with your higher education community to make sure that is something going forward.

TED SIMONS: Arizona wanted a waiver, needed a waiver, got the waiver, why?

LEAH LANDRUM TAYLOR: Again just what you just said. In order to make sure that we're looking at like, for instance, our bottom 5% of our students, of our schools, and how do we go about making sure that we are setting forth with measurable assessments, measurable standards, so that those children can also have that opportunity at an excellent education and to be able to, you know, compete overall. You couldn't just continue going the same direction and having these children that were just falling off a cliff. We had to make sure that we set those standards so if you look at how you even label the schools and how you identify them, that's really important as well, how you even go about identifying those schools that are suffering and then setting forth a plan of how those various districts or schools or charter schools as well will decide okay, this is the direction they're going to go.

TED SIMONS: This was a one-year extension, correct?

LEAH LANDRUM TAYLOR: Right, we had a waiver before.

TED SIMONS: As far as like family engagement and those sorts of things, is that addressed at all in this situation? Outside of assessment, I know assessment is a big deal here in raising those lower -- but families. Cultural aspects of all of this. Are they included?

LEAH LANDRUM TAYLOR: That's a good point. That is something as we were putting together even the new waiver we looked at the different communities that have been known for years and years of having high levels of disparities. So if you look, for instance, at some of the tribal communities and what's going on on the reservations, these are the things that are included in the waiver to make sure that we could again identify those schools that really are in need of having that plan set forward, how do the administrators, how do the principals go about working in a way to where they can work with the communities, include the communities, and then setting that plan, specific for that school, and for the population that they serve. Every population and every school and every community is different because you have a certain culture within that school.

TED SIMONS: And correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't there concerns as well regarding continuing civil rights concerns? I mean, was that a factor in there as well?

LEAH LANDRUM TAYLOR: There clearly have been concerns throughout the years and that goes back to your initial question of what the waiver is all about and that's to make sure that again, the schools that have been consistently looked at as having low academic achievements and making sure that we are going forward and closing those gaps of inequities and that is something that when you look at various schools, many times it's schools again that can qualify for the title one funding and a lot of times how you even measure those title one funding is those that qualify for free and reduced lunch.

TED SIMONS: English language learning, a big factor here?

LEAH LANDRUM TAYLOR: Another factor we have to look at to make sure we are servicing every child.

TED SIMONS: Now are the feds hinting that another waiver could happen as long as the trajectory happens as it is?

LEAH LANDRUM TAYLOR: There are conversations going on, there are conversations happening in Congress and movement going in that direction and quite frankly, until we can move to catch up, we'll just see what's going to happen and I know at the end of our letter that was one of the lines that was letter once we realized we were going to be receiving this waiver was that it would be examined and if it's something that would be needed to continue, then we could cross that road when we get there.

TED SIMONS: Who is involved, more so than others, in implementing, coming up with these ideas, implementing these strategies?

LEAH LANDRUM TAYLOR: Well, it's a combination. The way this evolved and came about was with the U.S. department of education. When they did make the decision that every state is not the same, every school is not the same, every district is not the same. What can we do to allow that flexibility so that if there is a school, a district, that is falling behind, how can they come up with innovative ways? Because innovation is also really important, again you have to have the assessment, you have to have those tools, to make sure that you're doing the proper measurement and you are going forward with moving about but it came about from conversations across this country of what could be done.

TED SIMONS: As far as Arizona, though, who were involved in those conversations?

LEAH LANDRUM TAYLOR: Well, here the decision ultimately is with our superintendent of public instruction and that was a decision that was made coming forward. It had already been moving along. We already had the waiver. And when Superintendent Douglas was sworn and in brought in as the new superintendent, the decision was made to go ahead and continue forward with this.

TED SIMONS: So we're talking about the future now of Arizona education by way of No Child Left Behind. What is the future of No Child Left Behind?

LEAH LANDRUM TAYLOR: Well I think that's a really good question. And I think we go back to again, what is it all about? And it's about making sure that each child will have what they need in order to have an excellent education. And then taking a look, you know, at our standards, making sure we do have the rigorous standards going forward, and then a transition plan, even for those schools, once they have moved forward and they're starting to achieve, you have to have a strong transition plan to be able to go forward and monitor and making sure that they are moving in the direction that they need to go. So what happens with that, with the No Child Left Behind? We hope we don't leave any children behind and there are certainly significant things that our superintendent of our public instruction, Diane Douglas, she's really working hard to achieve and to move in that direction where every child will matter, every child will count and to make sure that their educational needs are met. And that's critical.

TED SIMONS: Well, in terms of quantifying results, I know it's still relatively recent and everyone's got a different aspect here but it's nice to know the feds are looking at what's being talked about and what's being planned and implemented and saying okay that makes sense to us, let's move it forward. Good to have you here. Thank you so much for joining us.

LEAH LANDRUM TAYLOR: You're welcome.

Leah Landrum Taylor : Director of special projects for the Arizona Department of Education

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