LOS ANGELES — The Obama administration has given 10 states a waiver from the federal law known as No Child Left Behind — once a bipartisan hope to raise education standards, but now generally regarded as too cumbersome and draconian.
President Barack Obama announced the first round of waivers at a White House ceremony Thursday morning. The administration had said that it would grant the waivers because efforts to revise the law have become bogged down in Congress, even though members of both political parties agree that the law has problems and is in need of major changes.
“I said back then the goals of No Child Left Behind were the right ones. Standards and accountability — those are the right goals. Closing the achievement gap, that’s a good goal. That’s the right goal. We’ve got to stay focused on those goals,” the president said at the announcement.
“But 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. That doesn’t help anybody. It certainly doesn’t help our children in the classroom,” he said.
No Child Left Behind was a bipartisan effort pushed during the Bush administration to help bring students up to grade in reading and mathematics by 2014. It also called for increased accountability, as measured through standardized testing. If states failed to meet goals, they could face sanctions.
Though most agreed with the goal, the methods were questioned by many educators, who complained that the law forced classes to become laboratories for drills designed to improve test scores, rather than teach. Some politicians complained that the law created too large a role for the federal government in education issues, generally a local concern.
Congress has been unable to renew the law. “I want to point out, by the way, the members of Congress who are here, they’re ready to act, but we haven’t been able to get the entire House and Senate to move on this,” the president said.
With Congress seemingly blocked, the Obama administration said it was forced to move on its own to grant the waivers.
The first states to receive the waivers are Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee, the White House said. The administration said it is continuing to work with New Mexico, the only state not to receive a waiver in this first round.
Twenty-eight other states along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have said they would seek a waiver. Some states, including California and Texas, have yet to announce what they will do.
The Obama administration said states will still have to demonstrate standards. They must adopt a plan to show they are preparing students for college or jobs and set some targets for improving student performance. They also must have systems for teacher and principal development and evaluation beyond testing.
“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.”
In Thursday’s announcement, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that current law drives down standards, weakens accountability, causes narrowing of the curriculum and labels too many schools as failing. Moreover, the law mandates unworkable remedies at the federal level instead of allowing local educators to make spending decisions.
“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.