ABC News’ Mary Bruce (@marykbruce) Reports:
With efforts to overhaul “No Child Left Behind” stalled in Congress, the White House today announced it will offer states waivers from the federal education law, so long as they show progress in making education reforms.
“What we want to do is put forward a very simple trade-off,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters at today’s White House press briefing. “Where there’s a high bar, where folks are really doing the right thing for children, we want to give them a lot more flexibility; frankly, get out of their way and let them hit that higher bar.”
The current law — approved by Congress with overwhelming support in 2001 and signed by President George W. Bush in 2002 — requires students to be measured through standardized tests. States currently set their own standards for academic success and may risk federal funding if they fail to show adequate yearly progress in achieving their goals. Critics, including the Obama administration, claim the current system encourages states to lower, or “dummy down,” standards so they can report better progress.
“We have low expectations and states that have moved down as opposed to up expectations for our children. And we also have a punitive system that does not allow for reform. In fact, it’s a cookie-cutter system that is not allowing our students to move forward,” Obama’s Domestic Policy Adviser Melody Barnes said.
By offering a break from the legislation, the White House hopes states will be encouraged to make further reforms, even if it means their testing scores go down. “At a time when we have to get better, faster education than we ever have, we can’t afford to have the law of the land be one that has so many perverse incentives — or disincentives to the kind of progress we want to see,” Duncan said. “We want to remove those and reward those states that are telling the truth.”
The president sent Congress a proposal to revamp the legislation 16 months ago, but little progress has been made. Today the Secretary had a hard time explaining the hold up on Capitol Hill. “This should be bipartisan,” Duncan said. “We would love to see Congress act — no question that it should have happened. We hope it happens some point down the road, but it hasn’t, and we can’t afford to wait.”
The White House plans to finalize the waiver system over the next few weeks and present a plan at some point in September. Every state can apply but will have to show they are committed to reforms and standards designed to prepare students to be college and career-ready. “States are going to have to embrace the kind of reform that we believe is necessary to move our education system forward. But we encourage them and look forward to working with them as we try to provide them with this kind of flexibility,” Barnes said.