The Effect of ESEA Waiver Plans on High School Graduation Rate Accountability

Effect of ESEA Waiver Plans on High School Graduation Rate AccountabilityThis new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education offers a troubling diagnosis: The thirty-five “NCLB flexibility” waivers granted by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) may have had the unfortunate side effect of allowing states to skirt 2008 regulations that standardized the graduation-rate measurements and held schools accountable for raising those rates. Trivial this is not: Prior to these changes, reported graduation rates were often inflated and always difficult to compare (just like proficiency rates). The 2008 regulations set parameters for consistent, common graduation-rate calculations across schools, districts, and states. Through their ESEA waivers, however, eleven states have re-incorporated “alternative” measures of high school completion (e.g., the GED) in their graduation-rate tracking and reporting, possibly incentivizing schools to “push students towards a GED rather than a standard diploma.” The 2008 policy exposed the low graduation rates of pupil subgroups (minorities, English language learners, low-income students, and students with disabilities) that had previously been masked by averaging the student population; but eleven state waivers contain weak or no strategies for subgroup grad-rate accountability. An intriguing question—not considered here—is whether the 2008 regulation was responsible (at least partially) for the recent uptick in the national graduation rate—and whether the waivers will send that rate tumbling again. The permanent policy question remains: Which aspects of American education should be uniform and which are good candidates for having their uniformities waived?

SOURCE: Daniel H. Bowen and Jay P. Greene, “Does Athletic Success Come at the Expense of Academic Success?” (Journal of Research in Education, volume 22, number 2, Fall 2012).

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