Obama Offers States a Break From ‘No Child Left Behind’

Tired of waiting for Congress to reform the education law ”No Child Left Behind,” President Obama is taking matters into his own hands. On Friday, the president will announce that he is giving states the option to opt out of some of the toughest requirements of the federal education law, so long as they adopt reforms that the White House deems necessary.

“Today, state and local school districts are buckling under the law’s mandates and too many schools are destined to fail,” a senior administration official said today. “This fall, the administration will provide flexibility from the law in exchange for a real commitment to undertake change. The purpose is not to give states and districts a reprieve from accountability… but rather to unleash energy to improve our schools at the local level, even as Congress works to reform the law.”

The president will urge states to apply for waivers of the NCLB requirement that schools prove students are proficient in math and reading by 2014 or risk being labeled failures. In exchange, states must show they are committed to certain reforms, including adopting college and career-ready academic standards and linking teacher evaluation to student performance. States must also create an accountability system that reports the lowest performing schools and the largest achievement gaps.

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 loss of 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.

“Instead of fostering progress and accelerating academic improvement, many No Child Left Behind requirements have become barriers to state and local implementation of reforms,” the administration official said.

The president originally asked Congress for a bill by the start of the new school year, but the reauthorization has stalled in both the House and Senate.

“We are now a month into the new school year and, while we appreciate the individual efforts of various members of Congress, we still don’t have a bipartisan bill to replace No Child Left Behind,” a senior administration official said. “The reality is another school year’s starting under a broken law.”

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