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No Child Left Behind loosens grasp as 10 states freed from requirements

No Child Left Behind has been a contentious law ever since it was passed in 2002. Now ten states have been released of some of the toughest legal requirements of the law.

By BEN FELLER & KIMBERLY HEFLINGAssociated Press / February 9, 2012

No Child Left Behind no longer applies in 10 states: President Barack Obama shakes hands with Education Secretary Arne Duncan after speaking about No Child Left Behind, Thursday, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Ten states were freed from some of the landmark law's toughest requirements, Thursday.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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It could be the beginning of the end for No Child Left Behind.

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The goal was lofty: Get all children up to par in math and reading by 2014. But the nation isn't getting there, and now some states are getting out.

In a sign of what's to come, President Barack Obama on Thursday freed 10 states from some of the landmark law's toughest requirements. Those states, which had to commit to their own, federally approved plans, will now be free, for example, to judge students with methods other than test scores. They also will be able to factor in subjects beyond reading and math.

"We can combine greater freedom with greater accountability," Obama said from the White House. Plenty more states are bound to take him up on the offer.

While many educators and many governors celebrated, congressional Republicans accused Obama of executive overreach, and education and civil rights groups questioned if schools would be getting a pass on aggressively helping poor and minority children — the kids the 2002 law was primarily designed to help.

The first 10 states to be declared free from the education law are Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee. The only state that applied for the flexibility and did not get it, New Mexico, is working with the administration to get approval.

Twenty-eight other states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have signaled that they, too, plan to flee the law in favor of their own plans.

The government's action on Thursday was a tacit acknowledgement that the law's main goal, getting all students up to speed in reading and math by 2014, is not within reach.

The states excused from following the law no longer have to meet that deadline. Instead, they had to put forward plans showing they will prepare children for college and careers, set new targets for improving achievement among all students, reward the best performing schools and focus help on the ones doing the worst.

Obama said he was acting because Congress had failed to update the law despite widespread agreement it needed to be fixed.

"We've offered every state the same deal," Obama said. "If you're willing to set higher, more honest standards than the ones that were set by NoChild Left Behind, then we're going to give you the flexibility to meet those standards."

The executive action by Obama is one of his most prominent in an ongoing campaign to act on his own where Congress is rebuffing him.

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