Are NCLB Waivers, Common Core Creating New Markets, Innovations?

Senior Editor

The Obama administration’s decision to grant states waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act obviously has major implications for districts and schools—and almost certainly for both private companies and public officials seeking to design new curriculum products.

That was one of the takeaways from a panel discussion staged this week in Washington by a leading business organization, the Software and Information Industry Association, an event that focused on the NCLB waiver process and its implications on technology and business.

The waiver rules established by the Obama administration freed states from some of the core provisions of the federal education law, most notably the provision that all students be proficient in English/language arts and math by 2014. In exchange, states had to agree to a number of requirements, including adopting standards meant to prepare students for college and careers, revamping efforts to turn around low-performing schools, and tying teacher and principal evaluations to student performance. Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia have received waivers so far.

The administration’s waivers no longer require states to use supplemental-education services, which is expected to reshape and in many ways limit the market for that form of tutoring.

But the adoption of new standards—which in many states has come in the form of their adoption of the common core standards and assessments—is leading to “an explosion of instructional materials” aligned to those academic benchmarks, said Lillian Pace, a panelist who is the the senior director of national policy for KnowledgeWorks, which describes itself as a social enterprise focused on college and career readiness.

“Nearly every state is developing [curricular] and supplementary materials to help districts transition to new college and career standards,” Pace said. “There is no question that this has created a huge new market, and one that is ripe for scale.”

At the same time, state and local officials are also seeking improved assessment and data systems, and opportunities to provide personalized learning, she said.

And the pressure to create new teacher and principal evaluation systems will probably compel states and districts to search for professional-development programs that are aligned with the new performance demands being placed on educators and administrators, she said.

At least one audience member at the event voiced worries about about whether the common core standards and assessments would meet the diverse needs of students with disabilities—an issue we’ve explored at Education Week.

But one of the panelists, Peter Zamora, the director of federal relations for the Council of Chief State School Officers, predicted that the Common Core standards and assessments could result in more of a “national market” for innovative and high-quality products for special-needs students and English-language learners, materials that could be shared across districts and states.

With the common core, you’re “creating a market where you have the same metrics for identifying success,” with students, Zamora told Education Week after the discussion. (His organization was one of the leaders in directing the common-standards project.)

As a result, many of the most promising materials and inventions for special-needs students and English-language learners wouldn’t have to be conceived by big, commercial vendors, he added. Some may be the inventions of individual teachers who use them successfully in their classrooms, share them in their districts, and then are able to disseminate them across states, where other educators are presumably aiming for the same academic benchmarks, and coping with similar challenges, because of the common standards.

We’ll be keeping an eye on how waivers affect the market for K-12 content in the months and years to come.

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