Six more states and D.C. granted No Child waivers

Posted: July 20, 2012

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration has approved seven more requests for waivers from the No Child Left Behind law, recognizing the continued inability of states to live up to lofty standards that have caused thousands of schools to be marked as failing.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that Arizona, Oregon, South Carolina, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, and the District of Columbia would join 26 states already exempt from key provisions in the law.

The law was supposed to force schools to be accountable by raising education expectations and setting a goal for all students to be proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014. Critics have faulted the law for its reliance on standardized tests and unrealistic standards.

Ben Cannon, education policy adviser to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, called the law's target scores "arbitrary" and said No Child Left Behind sanctions would have cost Oregon millions of dollars.

In 2011, 48 percent of the nation's public schools failed to reach No Child Left Behind testing targets, the highest percentage considered failing since President George W. Bush signed the law in 2002, according to a study by the Center on Education Policy.

Hosanna Mahaley, D.C.'s superintendent of education, said that under No Child Left Behind, nearly 90 percent of the district's schools were considered failing, instead of being recognized for their growth and improvement.

"We firmly believe the goals of No Child Left Behind were the right goals," Mahaley said. "The waiver is not a retreat from accountability. It is a move toward smarter accountability."

Congress has not revised the education law. President Obama called on Congress to rework the law in 2011, and began issuing waivers in February after Congress failed to reach an agreement to update it.

To qualify for waivers, states must enact federal standards that include ensuring that students are college and career ready, focusing aid on the neediest students and evaluating teachers and principals, in part by using student test scores. While the standards still use test scores as a component of evaluations, they are less stringent than No Child Left Behind, which used scores to rate and apply penalties to schools and districts that didn't meet testing expectations.

In California, 66 percent of public schools failed to meet No Child Left Behind testing targets last year. The state submitted a waiver request in May asking the federal government to stop labeling its schools as failing, give districts flexibility on how to spend federal funds, and allow educators to use state rather than federal measures for academic improvement.

The federal Department of Education has yet to rule on California's request, but it would be a departure from the department's requirements to grant the state's unique application.

"We are hopeful," said Paul Hefner, spokesman for the state's Department of Education.

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