Obama Frees 8 States From ‘No Child’ Education-Testing Rules

Obama Frees 8 States From ‘No Child’ Education-Testing Rules
Students in an overflow classroom at Beltsville Academy in Maryland. Photographer: Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Barack Obama freed eight states from provisions of the No Child Left Behind education-testing law after they pledged to turn around low-performing schools and tie teacher evaluations to student achievement.

Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island received waivers from the law, enacted under former President George W. Bush. In all, 19 states have now have been granted permission to sidestep the statute in exchange for agreeing to elements of the Obama administration’s education agenda.

Obama has pledged to change the 10-year-old No Child Left Behind Law, saying its focus on standardized-testing dumbs down teaching, narrows school curriculums and labels even high-achieving schools as failing. Republicans -- including John Kline, chairman of the House education committee -- have said Congress should change the law, rather than the administration, through executive orders.

“States must show they are protecting children in order to get flexibility,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. “These states met that bar.”

The states obtaining waivers would be exempt from the requirement that all students pass achievement tests by 2014 -- and make progress toward that goal each year -- or risk losing federal funding. Under No Child Left Behind, each state establishes its own proficiency tests and determines what constitutes passing.

‘Changing Whims’

Kline, who represents Minnesota, said he has “significant concerns” about waivers that leave states “subject to the changing whims of the Secretary of Education.” House Republicans are advancing two pieces of legislation to improve the law, he said.

“This plan does not constitute the long-term reform families, schools, and students need,” Kline said in a statement. “It’s a temporary Band-Aid to a problem that must be resolved through legislation.”

In a conference call with reporters, Duncan said he still prefers that Congress reach a bipartisan agreement to rewrite the law -- something it has been unable to do for five years.

“Children cannot wait any longer,” Duncan said. “Teachers can’t wait, and American can’t wait, so we’re moving forward.”

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-based nonpartisan research group. The administration has cited the failure rate as a reason to offer states and local school authorities more flexibility.

Previously Excused

Obama previously excused 11 other states from the law: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

In the latest round of waiver plans, New York said it would require turnaround proposals for the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools and those with a graduation rate below 60 percent. The state noted that it negotiated a teacher and principal evaluation system that gives a 40 percent weighting to improvement in the academic performance of students.

Connecticut promised to increase the number of schools held accountable for the lagging performance of black and Hispanic students, as well as those with disabilities and those who speak English as a second language or come from low-income families. Fighting that “achievement gap” was a major focus of No Child Left Behind.

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