New No Child Left Behind Rules

For years, the Obama Administration has tried to reform the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. The law holds schools directly accountable for student progress in reading and math and leads them to face sanctions, including potential closure, if they don’t meet set standards. NCLB’s criticisms have been manifold: that it forces schools to teach to the test and deemphasize (if not outright ignore) other subjects; that it is a negative, punitive approach; that it doesn’t truly reform the educational system; and that the standards are unrealistic (48 percent of the nation’s 100,000 public schools were labeled as failing under the law last year).

With no consensus in Congress on how to fix the problem, the President has taken matters into his own hands. In a press conference this afternoon, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that 10 states—Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Tennessee—have agreed to work within the Administration’s reform guidelines and will thus receive a waiver from the potential sanctions slated to go into effect in 2014. These states will continue to set a higher bar for achievement—including college- and career-ready standards—but now have more freedom in how they implement it. More important, they can focus on tailoring solutions to the individual needs of poor-performing schools and students. They’ve also agreed to reward schools ranked at the top and that display clear gains (something NCLB didn’t do), and to implement meaningful teacher and principal evaluation systems.

This NCLB bypass effectively puts more control of education back in the hands of individual states. Assuming the states follow through as promised and look at long-term structural fixes, granting them waivers should be a good thing for public students in these states. But it is also a clear acknowledgment that that the United States is nowhere near to achieving the law’s goal of getting kids up to grade level in reading and math within the next two years. No wonder 28 other states have indicated that they, too, plan to seek waivers.

What do you think: Are the NCLB waivers a good thing or merely an admission that our system remains broken with few signs of improvement?

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