The U.S. Department of Education and a band of outside peer reviewers are now weighing the details of a precedent-setting waiver application from nine districts in California that want flexibility under the No Child Left Behind Act even though their state's bid for a waiver was unsuccessful.
If approved, it would be the first time the federal department has granted such sweeping flexibility to individual districts.
Until now, states have been the only recipients of the broad NCLB waivers first announced by President Barack Obama in 2011—and only if they agreed to the strings attached, such as implementing teacher-evaluation systems linked to student test scores. In exchange, states get out from under key requirements of the NCLB law, such as that schools bring all students to proficiency in reading and math by the end of the 2013-14 school year.
The waiver application for the group of districts known as CORE, for California Office to Reform Education, was buoyed—somewhat—late last month by a letter of tepid support from California state education officials.
The letter to federal education officials, signed by state schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson and state school board President Michael W. Kirst, indicated that members of the California board of education have "expressed enthusiasm" for what the letter called an "innovative" waiver.
But Mr. Torlakson and Mr. Kirst also outlined their reservations about how such a waiver would work, including the role of the state in monitoring the nine districts, whether other districts would be able to join in, and the process used by federal officials to approve the request.
Armed with the state's official input, the federal Education Department last week was in the process of turning over the application to a team of six peer reviewers, as the department has done with state waiver applications, to help sort those issues out.
Daren Briscoe, a spokesman for the department, said the peer reviewers would be applying the same principles they did in judging the state waivers. For instance, districts must implement college- and career-readiness standards and differentiated accountability.