White House to grant No Child Left Behind waivers to states

C.J. Ciaramella Contributor

The Obama administration will bypass Congress and give qualifying states a waiver from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) after reform of the education law stalled.

The Department of Education announced today the White House has directed it to move forward with a plan, to be rolled out sometime early in September, that will give qualifying states relief from NCLB requirements until permanent changes to the law are made.

NCLB, first signed into law in 2001 with bipartisan support, ties federal educational aid to standardized testing results, an approach critics say leads to perverse incentives, such as schools intentionally setting low standards.

Obama originally wanted changes to NCLB hammered out before the start of the school year this fall, but 16 months after the administration submitted its proposal, reform has yet to materialize due to “partisan politics in the House,” the Department of Education said in a statement.

“American’s future competitiveness is being decided today, in classrooms across the nation,” said Melody Barnes, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. “With no clear path to a bipartisan bill in Congress, the President has directed us to move forward with an administrative process to provide flexibility within the law for states and districts that are willing to embrace reform.”

Flexibility is the watchword of the administration’s proposed reforms. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said NCLB is “forcing districts into one-size-fits-all solutions that just don’t work.”

Although Duncan and Barnes said the Department of Education will encourage all 50 state to apply, they stressed the waivers will not give states a free pass.

“We are asking that every state apply, but the standards will be high,” Barnes said in a press conference today. “States are going to have to embrace the kind of reform to move our students forward. Accountability will remain one of the bellwethers of our administration, as it has in the past.”

The administration’s proposal calls for improved college preparation standards and a more flexible and targeted accountability system “based on measuring annual student growth.”