August 20, 2013
Dr. William E. Harner
Acting Secretary of Education
Pennsylvania Department of Education
333 Market Street, 10th Floor
Harrisburg, PA 17126
Dear Dr. Harner:
I am pleased to approve Pennsylvania’s request for ESEA flexibility, subject to Pennsylvania’s meeting the condition described below. I congratulate you on submitting a request that demonstrates Pennsylvania’s commitment to improving academic achievement and the quality of instruction for all of the State’s elementary and secondary school students.
In the fall of 2011, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) offered States the opportunity to request flexibility from certain requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended (ESEA), in exchange for rigorous and comprehensive plans designed to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps, increase equity, and improve the quality of instruction. This flexibility is intended to support the groundbreaking reforms already taking place in many States and districts that we believe hold promise for improving outcomes for students. I am encouraged by the innovative thinking and strong commitment to improving achievement for all students that is evident in Pennsylvania’s request.
Our decision to approve Pennsylvania’s request for ESEA flexibility is based on our determination that the request meets the four principles articulated in the Department’s updated June 7, 2012, document titled ESEA Flexibility. In particular, Pennsylvania has: (1) demonstrated that it has college- and career-ready expectations for all students; (2) developed and demonstrated that it has a high-quality plan to implement a system of differentiated recognition, accountability, and support for all Title I districts and schools in the State; (3) committed to developing, adopting, piloting, and implementing teacher and principal evaluation and support systems that support student achievement; and (4) provided an assurance that it will evaluate and revise its administrative requirements to reduce duplication and unnecessary burden on districts and schools. This approval decision is also based on Pennsylvania’s assurance that it will meet these four principles by implementing the high-quality plan and other elements described in its request and in accordance with the required timelines. In approving Pennsylvania’s request, I have taken into consideration the feedback that was received from the panel of peer experts and Department staff who reviewed Pennsylvania’s request, as well as Pennsylvania’s revisions to its request in response to that feedback.
The waivers that comprise ESEA flexibility are being granted to Pennsylvania pursuant to my authority in section 9401 of the ESEA. A complete list of the statutory provisions being waived is set forth in the table enclosed with this letter. Consistent with section 9401(d)(1) of the ESEA, I am granting waivers of these provisions through the end of the 2013–2014 school year. If Pennsylvania meets the condition described below prior to the end of the 2013–2014 school year, I will extend the approval of these waivers through the end of the 2014–2015 school year. At that time Pennsylvania may request a further extension of these waivers.
In the coming days, you will receive a letter from Deborah Delisle, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, containing additional information regarding Pennsylvania’s implementation of ESEA flexibility, as well as information regarding monitoring and reporting. Please note that the Department will closely monitor Pennsylvania’s implementation of the plans, systems, and interventions detailed in its request in order to ensure that all students continue to receive the assistance and supports needed to improve their academic achievement.
My decision to place a condition on the approval of Pennsylvania’s request is based on the fact that Pennsylvania has not demonstrated that data on student growth are included as a significant factor in its teacher and principal evaluation and support system. However, I have determined that Pennsylvania is able to fully meet the ESEA flexibility principles in the 2013–2014 school year while it (1) collects data from its teacher evaluation and support system demonstrating that this system includes, as a significant factor, data on student growth for teachers and (2) adopts final regulations for its principal evaluation system that include student growth as a significant factor in differentiating principal performance ratings.
To receive approval to implement ESEA flexibility through the end of the 2014–2015 school year, Pennsylvania must submit to the Department data demonstrating that Pennsylvania’s teacher evaluation system differentiates teachers who make significantly different contributions to student growth. Pennsylvania must also provide the final regulations it adopts for its principal evaluation system and evidence that those regulations include student growth data as a significant factor in determining performance levels for principals. If Pennsylvania does not submit for review and approval an amended request that includes these data and this evidence, the waivers being granted to Pennsylvania through ESEA flexibility will expire at the end of the 2013–2014 school year, and Pennsylvania and its districts will be required to immediately resume complying with all ESEA requirements.
Pennsylvania continues to have an affirmative responsibility to ensure that it and its districts are in compliance with Federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and age in their implementation of ESEA flexibility as well as their implementation of all other Federal education programs. These laws include Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, and requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
A copy of Pennsylvania’s approved request for ESEA flexibility will be posted on the Department’s Web site at: http://www.ed.gov/esea/flexibility/requests . Again, I congratulate you on the approval of Pennsylvania’s request for ESEA flexibility and thank you for the work that you and your staff have done. I look forward to continuing to support you as you implement Pennsylvania’s ESEA flexibility request and work to improve the quality of instruction and academic achievement for all students.
cc: Honorable Tom Corbett
Carolyn Dumaresq, Executive Deputy Secretary