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No Child Left Behind loses bite as Obama issues waivers

Many educators applaud the waivers from some parts of No Child Left Behind, saying the education-reform law has a one-size-fits-all approach. Others worry that minorities could suffer. 

By Staff writer / February 9, 2012

President Obama makes remarks last year on the need to provide states with relief from key provisions of the No Child Left Behind education policy. His administration began offering waivers from the education-reform law Thursday.

Jason Reed/Reuters/File


For 10 states, the chance to get No Child Left Behind off their backs has finally arrived, with President Obama announcing long-awaited waivers from some aspects of the federal education law Thursday.

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The George W. Bush-era bipartisan law has widely been credited with bringing to light achievement gaps in which racial minority, low-income, disabled, and non-native English speaking students have been the most left behind. But it’s also been widely criticized for a one-size-fits all approach to accountability, with many states saying it’s an albatross.

“With the waivers, Obama has changed the landscape of accountability under No Child Left behind,” says Diane Stark Rentner, interim director of the Center on Education Policy in Washington.

The states that have so far received waivers through the US Department of Education are Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

They will now have flexibility to target resources on the lowest-performing schools. They will still be expected to test and report achievement data, but will no longer have to require all schools to improve at a certain rate to reach 100 percent proficiency in reading and math by 2014, as NCLB required.

That deadline “was a wonderful goal but really impossible to attain with an education system that is structured the way it is,” says Cynthia Brown, vice president for education policy at the Center for American Progress in Washington. “We’ve had so much reform momentum throughout the country over the last five or six years that it’s really important to adapt the law to … the willingness of states and districts to take on new ways of doing things.”

New Mexico has also applied for a waiver and is in discussions with the US Department of Education, and 28 other states have said they intend to apply for a second round of waivers later this month.

In exchange for flexibility, the states have to set standards to prepare students for college and careers and create plans to improve the effectiveness of teachers and principals.


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