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No Child Left Behind: Obama administration grants 10 waivers

February 9, 2012 | 10:37 am

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The Obama administration has given 10 states a waiver from the federal law known as No Child Left Behind -- once a bipartisan hope to raise education standards, but now generally regarded as too cumbersome and draconian.

The White House announced the first round of waivers for 10 states Thursday morning. The administration had said that it would grant the waivers because efforts to revise the 10-year-old law have become bogged down in Congress even though members of both political parties agree that the law has problems and is in need of major changes.

“After waiting far too long for Congress to reform No Child Left Behind, my administration is giving states the opportunity to set higher, more honest standards in exchange for more flexibility,” President Obama said in a statement released with the announcement.

“Today, we’re giving 10 states the green light to continue making reforms that are best for them. Because if we’re serious about helping our children reach their potential, the best ideas aren’t going to come from Washington alone. Our job is to harness those ideas, and to hold states and schools accountable for making them work.”

Obama is scheduled to make a formal announcement later Thursday and will call on Congress to go back to work on revising the law, which was designed to get students up to standards in reading and mathematics by 2014. States sought the waivers because they have been unable to meet the goal and could face sanctions from the federal government for the failure.

The first states to receive the waivers are Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee, the White House said. The administration said it is continuing to work with New Mexico, the only state not to receive a waiver in this first round.

Twenty-eight other states along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have said they would seek a waiver.

No Child Left Behind was a bipartisan effort pushed during the Bush administration to build a degree of accountability into education by stressing standardized testing. If schools fail to show progress, they face sanctions.

Educators complained that the law forced classes to become laboratories for drills designed to improve test scores, rather than teach. Some politicians complained that the law created too large a role for the federal government in education issues, generally a local concern.

In Thursday’s announcement, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that current law drives down standards, weakens accountability, causes narrowing of the curriculum and labels too many schools as failing. Moreover, the law mandates unworkable remedies at the federal level instead of allowing local educators to make spending decisions.

“Rather than dictating educational decisions from Washington, we want state and local educators to decide how to best meet the individual needs of students,” Duncan stated.

The administration is not abandoning standards, however, the White House said.

“To get flexibility from NCLB, states must adopt and have a plan to implement college and career-ready standards. They must also create comprehensive systems of teacher and principal development, evaluation and support that include factors beyond test scores, such as principal observation, peer review, student work, or parent and student feedback,” according to the administration.

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-- Michael Muskal

Photo: President Obama, center, greets members of his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness last month while Education Secretary Arne Duncan, second from left, looks over documents. Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Bloomberg

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