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Ten States Get NCLB Waivers

“Obama: 10 states to receive No Child Left Behind waivers”
By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post
February 9, 2012

The Obama administration will free 10 states from the requirements of No Child Left Behind, responding to complaints from teachers and school administrators across the country that the nation’s main education law is outdated and punitive.

President Obama is scheduled to announce the first round of waivers Thursday afternoon, according to an administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly. The administration said last year that it would award waivers because Congress had failed to revamp the 10-year-old law, despite widespread agreement between Democrats and Republicans that the legislation was flawed and in need of an overhaul.

Twenty-eight other states along with the District and Puerto Rico have indicated their intent to seek waivers in the next round of consideration, which begins later this month.“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 said in a statement released by the White House. “Today, we’re giving 10 states the green light to continue making reforms that are best for them. Because if we’re serious about helping our children reach their potential, the best ideas aren’t going to come from Washington alone. Our job is to harness those ideas, and to hold states and schools accountable for making them work.”

Lawmakers have been trying to revamp No Child Left Behind for four years. They have largely been arguing over the role the federal government should play in local education, but partisan differences in an election season have further complicated that debate.

Eleven states applied for the first round of waivers and 10 will get them, said the administration source. They are Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee. New Mexico is the only state to apply for a waiver and be denied, but the state can continue to work on its application and may be awarded relief later, the administration official said.

The waivers will free the states from some of the law’s toughest requirements, including that schools ensure that every student be proficient in math and reading by 2014 or risk escalating sanctions.

Many educators say the pressure of trying to reach full proficiency has created an unhealthy focus on standardized tests, with continual drilling in the classroom and a narrowing of curriculum to focus on math and reading.

In exchange for relief, the administration is requiring a quid pro quo: States have to adopt changes that include meaningful teacher and principal evaluation systems, making sure all students are ready for college or careers, upgrading academic standards and a focus on uplifting the worst-performing schools. Historically, the federal government has left such decisions to states and local communities.

The waivers will allow some states to change the way they monitor the performance of low-achieving students. The current law requires states to track student performance by subgroups based on race, income and disabilities. That will remain in place, an administration source said. But nine states will have permission to create a “super subgroup,” essentially lumping together students with disabilities, English-language learners and racial minorities, for the purposes of deciding which schools need extra help in raising student achievement, the administration official said.

When Congress passed No Child Left Behind in 2001, it marked a bipartisan effort to hold schools accountable to parents and taxpayers and a federal commitment to attack student achievement gaps.

For the first time, the law required schools to test all children in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school and report results by subgroups — including race, English learners and students with disabilities — so it was clear how every student was faring.

Civil rights groups are concerned that by permitting states to create “super subgroups,” the specific needs of black, Hispanic, English-language learners and students with disabilities will be overlooked. Nine of the 11 states that have applied for waivers want to create these “super subgroups.”

States that receive waivers will still test students annually, but by September, schools in those states will no longer face the punitive measures outlined in No Child Left Behind, such as requirements that they fire half their staff, have their principal removed or even shut down.

Republicans have said the waivers will amount to overreach on the part of the administration. No Child Left Behind allows the education secretary to waive “any statutory or regulatory requirement” of the law. It says nothing about the authority to set conditions for those waivers.