Federal education officials say they have "significant concerns" about the District's efforts to get out from under a law requiring all public school students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014.
The Office of the State Superintendent of Education is seeking relief from the federal No Child Left Behind law, along with more than two dozen states that say the benchmarks are unrealistic, and 11 more that have already received waivers.
But Michael Yudin, the acting assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, said the feds aren't sure whether to grant the District's request because of the city's poor history of accounting for federal grants, which has made D.C. school system "a high-risk grantee."
In a letter to D.C. State Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley, Yudin said the District's problems complying with special education laws also gave his department pause, as well as OSSE's inability to clearly explain in its waiver application how it would keep schools accountable for progress.
Although most states were asked to respond to questions and resubmit their waiver applications by May 1, "given the number and level of concerns raised by the peer reviewers, OSSE may wish to take additional time," Yudin said.
In an interview with The Washington Examiner, Mahaley pointed out that District schools were deemed "high-risk" before her office was even created.
"I was surprised by that, because we've made so much progress recently in that area," Mahaley said. The only step left to exit "high-risk" status, she said, is to create a formal process to monitor how much grant money goes to overhead funding -- i.e., administration.
Currently, only 45 percent of District students are proficient in reading on standardized tests, along with 47 percent who are proficient in math. Because students are not even close to meeting the 2014 goal of 100 percent proficiency, District officials are asking for new benchmarks: They want 74 percent of students to be proficient in math and 73 percent proficient in reading by 2017.
If the waiver isn't approved, the District won't lose federal funding. But Mahaley says the city could focus more specific efforts on the schools at the very bottom of the heap if it weren't forced to follow all of No Child Left Behind's procedures.
Maryland and Virginia have also sought waivers from No Child Left Behind, with Maryland seeking to get 91 percent of students up to speed in math and 93 percent in reading by 2017. Virginia wants to get 75 percent of students proficient in reading and 70 percent in math by 2014.