10 States Leave Behind No Child Left Behind

Ten states will receive waivers from requirements of the oft-criticized federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) initiative. In a conference call with reporters, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and Director of the Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Munoz discussed the details of the plan.

Originally signed in 2001 by then-President George W. Bush, NCLB was meant to hold schools to a higher standard. But the law has been widely criticized by teachers and education officials as being too punitive, and putting too much of an emphasis on test scores, and less on growth and progress.

The first 10 states to receive the waivers will be Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee. The waivers require the states to develop their own plans to improve student achievement and school accountability. It is the first step in the administration’s “We Can’t Wait” education initiative. Of the 10 states, Florida, Georgia, and Oklahoma’s waivers are conditioned on pending legislative action. All of the states can have waivers revoked if they fail to live up to the commitments they made.

New Mexico also applied for a waiver but was rejected for this round. The administration continues to work with the state and they expect a resolution “very, very soon.” The deadline to apply for the second round of waivers comes at the end of the month.

One of the conditions for receiving a waiver was for the state to present its own solutions to hold schools to greater accountability. Duncan highlighted some of the programs that states put forward. For example, instead of measuring college readiness based on test scores, Georgia is using results from advanced placement (AP) courses as a measuring stick.

“For the first time in our nation’s history, a child in Massachusetts and a child in Mississippi will be measured by the same yardstick,” said Duncan.

Duncan frequently criticized NCLB in the conference call, saying that it put test scores above growth and progress, and that its only reward for success was “you weren’t a failure.” He said that the new rules being adopted by states would put more emphasis on standards, accountability and supporting teachers and principals.

Although both Democrats and Republicans have agreed there are serious flaws in the legislation, no progress has been made since Congress began discussion on reforms four years ago. In a statement released by the White House, President Barack Obama said he decided to award these waivers because not enough progress had been made by Congress.

“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,” he said in the statement. “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.”

Some members of Congress have already pushed back against the White House, saying they are undercutting legislators. Not so, says the White House.

“We continue to be ready to work with congress,” said Munoz. “As the President made clear, we are going forward with the waivers because we want to make progress as quickly as possible.”