Status of “No Child Left Behind”

Ten years after the “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) legislation was signed into law, some states have applied for and received waivers, which allow them more freedom for innovation while requiring higher accountability standards.

President Obama granted ten states waivers from the NCLB provisions, including its controversial deadline for 100% of students reaching proficiency in reading and math by 2014. The states, including some southeastern states like Tennessee, Florida and Georgia, are the first group to receive waivers. A second wave of applications is expected in late February.

In a Feb. 9th story in EdWeekChristopher D. Cerf, New Jersey’s acting education commissioner, said that his state’s receipt of the waiver would allow it to “give unprecedented freedom to those schools that are doing well to continue to achieve without state or federal intervention.”

Oklahoma, which also received a waiver on the condition the state completes a plan to assign schools A-F grades, was backed by its superintendent of schools, Janet Barresi (an elected Republican). She said, “I almost hate to use the word ‘waiver’ because it sounds like we are relaxing things, when in fact it will allow us new flexibility to refocus and be proactive.

“I think this will be a game changer,” she said, and noted that she supported NCLB in 2002. She explained that the waivers do not override the law, but rather “supplement” it. (according to EdWeek article.)

NCLB, the most recent version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, was due to be reauthorized in 2007. However, Congress has been deadlocked by bi-partisan debates that have prevented any action.

NCLB has been criticized for prompting many schools to become “test-obsessed,” and to minimize instruction in other subjects besides reading and math. Also, critics say that the law failed to take into account the needs of more disadvantaged children and some school’s limitations in serving them. However, others say the law’s requirements for disaggregating testing data according to different demographic groups has shined a light on achievement gaps.

Some groups opposing the waivers are worried it would allow schools to shift focus from the neediest, most disadvantaged students, and others are concerned that the waivers force the administration’s educational reform ideas on states.

In a recent New York Times article, President Obama stated that while the goals of NCLB were the right ones, “we’ve got to do it in a way that doesn’t force teachers to teach to the test, or encourage schools to lower their standards to avoid being labeled as failures.”

Waivers, according to the president, would reward states for innovative improvements to the law, providing “greater freedom with greater accountability.” In order to receive the waiver, states have to agree to adopt college and career-ready standards. They must also put into place effective new teacher evaluation systems, and have “aggressive” plans for improving low-performing schools. (From EdWeek, published online Feb. 9th.)

Click here for full New York Times article.