We are back in full policy swing, here at United Way Association. The General Assembly returned to session a few weeks back and we are already hard at work researching and monitoring legislation, attending committee meetings, sitting down with lawmakers, etc. etc.
One big issue we are turning our attention is in the area of education. United Way Worldwide has ten year goals in the area of education to cut high school drop out rates in half by 2018. We here at UWASC are working diligently to progress toward this goal in everyway that we can.
Some of our readers may have been around when President Johson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (or ESEA) and hopefully everyone was around when President Bush Jr. set into motion No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Which technically, is the same thing. The ESEA was a huge piece of legislation meant to reform and standardize education (while simultaneously outlawing standard national curriculum). NCLB is effectively a reauthorization of ESEA, with big changes. Please try to keep up with acronyms because there will be more and they will be worse.
NCLB was well intentioned and indeed brought to light achievement gaps in the education system - ramping up the pressure on schools to be accountable for these gaps. Income, race, English skills, and disabilties are all areas that were forced to be reconciled with in terms of achievement gaps and attention.
However, like many well intentioned measures there were negative drawbacks that have become unbearable for many school systems throughout the country. Some schools, instead of raising the achievement levels of students who fell below the standard, lowered the standard to the level of the underachieving students. The NCLB has also been accused of prescribing a 'one-size fits-all' criteria for the nation; stifling creativity, ignoring unique situations, and restricting instruction or evaluation.
So in order to attempt to amend some of the problems that have been fleshed out under the NCLB, the U.S. Department of Education is inviting State Education Systems (SEAs) around the country to apply for ESEA flexibility. If the application is granted, the SEAs would have the flexibility to set their own goals, and plans to reach those goals - while maintaining federal funding. The SEAs must include, in their application, an outline of their intentions to implement their alternate plans.
There are two deadlines to submit an application, one has already passed (November 14, 2011) and one is fast approaching (February 21, 2012). South Carolina is one of 28 other states that intend to submit an application for the second deadline.
United Way Association of South Carolina is supportive of the SC Department of Education and Superintendent Dr. Zais' move to submit an application for an ESEA waiver. We have penned a letter of support to Department of Ed outlining principles that we believe should be included in the waiver application.
If you have any questions about current NCLB law or the ESEA flexibility waivers, please feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.