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What NCLB Waivers Mean for States

To circumvent congressional gridlock and promote the Obama Administration’s “We Can’t Wait” educational initiatives, the Department of Education granted waivers last month to ten states whose schools faced a failing grade in their No Child Left Behind assessments.

These ten states were granted waivers after submitting successful proposals to bypass the structures of NCLB:

  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • Oklahoma
  • Tennessee

The only state that didn’t receive a waiver in this first round, New Mexico, is working with the administration to resubmit its proposal. Twenty-eight other states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, plan to submit waiver proposals in a second round of requests in coming weeks, and remaining states have the option to seek waivers in a third round.

What Exactly Do These NCLB Waivers Mean?

In response to flagging performance in America’s K-12 classrooms, President George W. Bush signed off on No Child Left Behind in 2001. In essence, it sought to improve education by measuring student success based on standardized test results, especially among poor and minority children. Initially, NCLB received widespread bipartisan support but has been up for renewal since 2007.

According to the Washington Times, about 82 percent of American school systems will fail to meet NCLB’s benchmark requirements in 2012. This jeopardizes federal funding at schools where students are not performing at 100 percent proficiency in reading and math by 2014. At the same time, school administrators contend that the benchmarks are too rigid and drive schools to “teach to the test.”

The new waivers allow states and school districts to follow a more discretionary path in:

  • Setting more realistic achievement goals and timelines for students
  • Preparing students for college and careers
  • Enhancing methods for student evaluation and support that include observation, peer review, and student work;
  • Improving parent-teacher relations;
  • Rewarding the best performing schools;
  • Providing more resources to schools in the bottom five percent;
  • Improving teacher/principal development and compensation.

“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 declared in a prepared statement last month.

Secretary Duncan Sounds Off on Waiver Benefits

A recent LA Times educational blog highlighted comments made last month by Education Secretary Arne Duncan who maintains that NCLB actually drives down standards, weakens accountability, causes narrowing of the curriculum, and labels too many schools as failing. Duncan also believes NCLB prescribes unworkable remedies at the federal level instead of giving spending authority to local administrators.

“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.

No Child Left Behind Still Has Merit, Supporters Claim According to the Washington Times, NCLB supporters point to the fact that from 2010 to 2011, schools reaching the “adequate yearly progress” benchmark improved from 39 percent to 48 percent, based on numbers from the nonprofit Center on Education Policy.

The Huffington Post reports that a House committee recently passed a pair of Republican-backed bills intended to improve No Child Left Behind while significantly reducing federal oversight of American schools. No Democrats supported the bills, however, and it is doubtful a contentious Congress can make any substantive headway on the NCLB renewal process during an election year.

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