Obama Frees More Than Half of States on ‘No Child’ Rules

President Barack Obama freed more than half of U.S. states from No Child Left Behind education- testing rules after they pledged to turn around low-performing schools and tie teacher evaluations to student achievement.

Wisconsin and the state of Washington today received waivers from provisions of the statute, the administration announced. Twenty-six states, including New York, New Jersey and Florida, have now have been granted permission to circumvent the rules in exchange for agreeing to elements of the Obama administration’s education agenda.

Seeking to fulfill a campaign promise to change 10-year- old No Child Left Behind program, Obama is sidestepping Congress, which hasn’t overhauled the law even as Republicans and Democrats attack it. Obama has said the statute’s focus on standardized-testing dumbs down teaching, narrows school curricula and labels even high-achieving schools as failing.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the fact that more than half of the 50 states are now opting out of the law “a remarkable milestone,” saying the first requests were granted only in February.

Republicans -- including John Kline, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee -- have said No Child should be changed by Congress through legislation, rather than by the administration through executive orders.

A bipartisan rewriting of the law “remains the best path forward in education reform, but as 28 states have now demonstrated, our kids can’t wait any longer for Congress to act,” Duncan said in a statement.

Proficiency Tests

States obtaining waivers become exempt from the requirement that all of their students pass achievement tests by 2014 --- and that their schools progress toward that goal each year. Under the law, states that miss the goals risk losing federal funding. Under No Child Left Behind, each state establishes its own proficiency tests and determines what constitutes passing.

Almost half of U.S. public schools are considered failing under the No Child Left Behind law, according to a report in December by the Center on Education Policy, a Washington, D.C.- based nonpartisan research group.

To contact the reporter on this story: John Hechinger in Boston at jhechinger@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Lisa Wolfson at lwolfson@bloomberg.net

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