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At long last, New York says it will jump on the NCLB waiver train

ALBANY — New York is joining the vast majority of states seeking to escape some of the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The Obama administration announced in August that it would offer states a chance to skirt some of NCLB’s strictest provisions, including the one that requires all students to score proficient on state tests by 2014. Last month, federal officials fleshed out the requirements and states lined up to apply — 39 so far, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. New York seemed to be a strong contender but officials here had not said until now whether the state would seek a waiver.

Today, state education officials announced that they plan to file a waiver application by the federal government’s second deadline, in mid-February.

Between now and then, a “think tank” of representatives from nearly two dozen education organizations will advise the State Education Department on its application, officials said today during a meeting of the Board of Regents. The think tank — whose members come from teachers unions, advocacy groups, reform organizations, and rural and urban school districts — have met twice already to plan and will discuss substantive issues for the first time when it convenes on Wednesday.

Ira Schwartz, the assistant commissioner in NYSED’s accountability office, will oversee the application process.

New York already meets many of the waiver requirements, including adopting college and career-ready standards, officials said today.

The Obama administration decided to offer the waivers after efforts to engineer a reauthorization of the education law stalled in Congress. The gridlock seems to have broken in recent weeks with a bipartisan reauthorization bill sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin and Mike Enzi.

But Education Secretary Arne Duncan signaled today that he does not fully support the Harkin-Enzi bill because it does not mandate that states include student test scores in teacher evaluation rules, something required for states to win an NCLB waiver.

“I appreciate the efforts of Senators Harkin and Enzi to build into the reauthorization bill more flexibility for states and districts while maintaining accountability at every level,” Duncan said in a statement. “I believe, however, that a comprehensive evaluation system based on multiple measures, including student achievement, is essential for education reform to move forward.”