February 9, 2012; Source: Associated Press | On Thursday, by executive order, President Obama granted ten states waivers to the stringent central provisions of the much-maligned No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee will no longer be held to the Bush-era law’s onerous 2014 deadline for bringing all grade school students within each state to grade level proficiency in reading and math, a lofty standard many critics condemned as unrealistic and ill-conceived. All states excused from compliance are bound by promises to set higher universal standards of achievement, develop more long-term schemes for college and career planning, reward the success of the best-performing schools and focus more attention on their weakest brethren.
An additional 28 states, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, are planning waiver requests of their own. Three key states—California, Texas and Pennsylvania—do not plan to flee the “teaching to the test” pathology NCLB has engendered are not currently seeking flexibility to formulate home-grown curricula. The Obama administration has set no timeline for applications, but clearly plans to enforce his predecessor’s creation among those states without a waiver: “it’s the law of the land,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan stated on Tuesday.
Congress passed no Child Left Behind a decade ago with bipartisan support. The legislative intent was to rescue the nation’s disadvantaged children from the cycle of poverty set in motion by unequal educational opportunities. This has not come to pass. Rather, last year, nearly half of the nation’s schools failed to meet benchmarks set by the law. Strict penalties befall those that fall behind for two years or longer, including the busing of students to better-performing schools and the replacement of staff.
President Obama’s sweeping clemency is attracting divided, partisan views. Some conservatives opine that Obama is usurping Congress’ authority with his own vision. Others say President Obama is at least seeking local flexibility for deploying federal funds with a plan for more realistic educational objectives. “We’ve offered every state the same deal,” Obama said. “If you’re willing to set higher, more honest standards than the one ones that were set by No Child Left Behind, then we’re going to give you the flexibility to meet those standards.” –Louis Altman