Last Thursday, President Obama announced that 10 states – Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Tennessee – will receive waivers, exempting them from meeting specific requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).
Flexibility is only being granted to those states that requested waivers and meet the Administration’s prerequisites. For example, states must have already adopted and developed plans to implement college and career-ready standards in reading and math. States must also create comprehensive principal development and teacher evaluation systems that include factors beyond test scores, such as principal observation, peer review, student work, or parent and student feedback.
States receiving waivers no longer have to meet the deadline that all students reach proficiency in math and reading by 2014. States must, instead, set new performance targets for improving student achievement and closing achievement gaps. They also must have accountability systems that reward high-performing schools as well as those making significant gains in student achievement. States will develop their own intervention strategies to turn around the lowest performing schools and to help subgroups of students with the greatest needs.
An eleventh state, New Mexico has also requested a waiver, and twenty-eight other states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have indicated that they, too, intend to seek waivers before the next deadline later this month.
In a White House announcement Thursday, the President said that NCLB is driving the wrong behaviors, from teaching to the test to federally determined, one-size-fits-all interventions.
“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,” said President Obama. “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. “
The President, once again, called on Congress to work across the aisle to find a long-term solution as the waivers provide just a temporary fix to the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), NCLB, which expired five years ago. Over the last year, both the House and Senate have worked on their own versions of ESEA rewrites, and the Obama administration submitted its own “Blueprint for Reform,” but there has yet to be bipartisan consensus on any reauthorization plan.
Expressing disappointment with the President’s waiver decision, Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), Ranking Member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said “This action clearly politicizes education policy, which historically has been a bipartisan issue. It is time for the president to work with Congress on important issues like this, instead of acting unilaterally.”
House Introduces ESEA Legislation
At the same time, the House Education and the Workforce Committee continued to move forward with its own plan for ESEA as Chairman John Kline (R-MN) introduced two pieces of legislation last Thursday. The Student Success Act (H.R. 3989) and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act (H.R. 3990) address accountability provisions, or Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), with state-developed accountability systems, local teacher evaluation systems, and flexibility with the use of federal funds.
Chairman Kline said, “The administration’s waiver scheme provides just enough temporary relief to quiet the demand for lasting reform. Rest assured, my colleagues and I on the House Education and the Workforce Committee haven’t lost our sense of urgency. We must move forward and advance long-term solutions to the challenges facing the nation’s schools.”
Notably absent from the bills are any provisions for strengthening science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. In fact, the Student Success Act removes the current requirement for state testing in science. The bill summary reads, “To reduce the burden of over-testing on our nation’s students, the bill eliminates the federal requirement that states administer assessments in science. States would retain the option to develop assessments in science and other subjects at their discretion.”
Additionally, the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act would eliminates more than 70 existing elementary and secondary education programs which appears to include the Department of Education’s Math and Science Partnerships program (Title II, Part B).
The Committee on Education and the Workforce plans to hold a hearing on these two bills on Thursday, February 16.
- To find out more about the Student Success Act, read the EdWorkforce bill summary or fact sheet. Resources are also available for the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act, including a bill summary and fact sheet.
- For more information on the NCLB waivers, visit http://www.ed.gov/esea/flexibility or read the White House Blog Post, Everything You Need to Know: Waivers, Flexibility, and Reforming No Child Left Behind.
- The Department of Education has posted State waiver documents; including flexibility requests, peer review notes, and a summary of improvements at http://www.ed.gov/esea/flexibility/requests