Obama Administration Announces NCLB Waiver Requirements

Published September 23, 2011

The Obama administration has finally released long-promised criteria states must meet to receive a waiver of No Child Left Behind requirements. They include adapting “career and college-ready standards,” tying part of teacher evaluations to student performance, and making plans to fix their worst 15 percent of schools.

States that adopt these policies will be allowed to ignore NCLB requirements for failing schools, such as offering after-school tutoring, converting to a charter, releasing students to another public school or system, or replacing part of the school’s staff. This frees some $1 billion in Title I money formerly tied to such ventures.

NCLB allows the Department of Education to issue waivers, but it does not authorize DOE to require changes in state education policies as a quid pro quo. Members of Congress in both political parties have criticized the waivers plan for that feature since Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced it in July.

“The executive branch does not possess the authority to force states into compliance with administration-backed reforms instituted through the issuance of waivers,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) wrote to Duncan. “This initiative is an overstep of authority that undermines existing law, and violates the constitutional separation of powers.”

Still Pushing National Curriculum
Critics renewed charges the the administration is using federal money to push for a national curriculum, because the only “career and college-ready standards” it has approved are the Common Core. Obama’s DOE has contracted for curriculum to fit the Common Core, which 44 states recently adopted under federal pressure, though three laws prohibit the federal government from creating or proscribing curriculum, Rubio said.

The few independent assessments of the Common Core available report it is “mediocre and represents little change from what states already have,” said Jay Greene, a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas.

Nationalized approaches to education standards also lack a mechanism for continual improvement, will be easy for powerful special interests to influence, and work poorly for a country as large and diverse as the United States, Green said.

Better to Decentralize
“The best way to produce high academic standards and better student learning is by decentralizing the process of determining standards, curriculum, and assessments,” Greene said. “When we have choice and competition among different sets of standards, curricula, and assessments, they tend to improve in quality to better suit student needs and result in better outcomes.”

Obama’s DOE should stop acting like a “national school board,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN).

“We shouldn’t create a situation where every governor has to come to Washington to get a waiver from standards that don’t work anymore,” Alexander said. “That’s [Congress’] job.”

States can apply for waivers by mid-November, and the DOE will award the first round in early 2012. State officials from at least 13 states, including New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Virginia, have said they will seek waivers.

Image by Jackie Guthrie.