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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. 

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In addition, their accountability systems must reward schools with high performance or significant gains in closing achievement gaps. By contrast, NCLB’s requirements were largely seen as punitive.

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The waivers couldn’t have happened without the backdrop of the Common Core State Standards, which 45 states have voluntarily adopted, Ms. Rentner says. Partly through incentives from the federal government, such as the Education Department's Race to the Top grants, states have been agreeing to these more-rigorous standards designed to keep students globally competitive in the 21st century. This will make it easier to compare student performance across states, Rentner says.

“If we’re serious about helping our children reach their potential, the best ideas aren’t going to come from Washington alone,” Obama is expected to say Thursday, according to a White House press release. “Our job is to harness those ideas, and to hold states and schools accountable for making them work.”

Some concerns have been raised – particularly by civil rights groups -- about how the waivers will play out in practice, and whether the states will truly be held accountable for the performance of some of the most disadvantaged students.

Another critique, from conservative observers and some Republican lawmakers, is that the Obama administration is overstepping its bounds by starting to dismantle NCLB through the waiver process.

“NCLB, for all its flaws, was crafted by the US Congress … [but] these waivers impose a a raft of new federal requirements that were never endorsed by the legislative branch,” says Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington. “Once this administration opens this door, it’s hard to imagine future administrations not building on this precedent.”

The chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, Rep. John Kline (R) of Minnesota, said Thursday morning at an AEI event, “This notion that Congress is sort of an impediment to be bypassed, I find very, very troubling in many, many ways.”

Congressman Kline also introduced on Thursday two Republican-written education bills designed to give more flexibility to states and school districts. Some Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. George Miller of California, the top Democrat on the education committee, have said Kline’s approach is a troubling departure from bipartisan attempts in recent years to rewrite the education law.

Many observers say that this year it’s unlikely Congress will be able to agree on a such a rewrite – already 5 years overdue.

Associated Press material was used in this report.

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