Obama Administration Waives ‘No Child’ for Ten States

Published February 9, 2012

The Obama administration will let ten states miss student proficiency targets required by the federal No Child Left Behind law in exchange for them enacting policies the administration prefers. 

Eleven states applied for a waiver in November 2011, and officials in 28 more have said they plan to apply. Only New Mexico was not approved this time. Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Tennessee will receive a waiver in this first round, President Obama announced this afternoon. 

“Rather than dictating educational decisions from Washington, we want state and local educators to decide how to best meet the individual needs of students,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

These ten states will be required to set new student achievement targets, implement “comprehensive” plans to reward high-performing schools, identify and address low-performing schools, adopt national Common Core education standards, and tie teacher and principal evaluations to student test scores.

President ‘Can’t Wait’
The waivers effort is part of President Obama’s “We Can’t Wait” campaign to bypass Congress using executive orders and fiat, Obama has said. The original law does give the administration the right to waive it if necessary, but does not allow it to tie waivers to policy prescriptions for states. 

“Rather than work with us to get it changed, [Arne Duncan] and the president decided to issue waivers in exchange for states adopting policies he wants them to have,” said House Education Chairman John Kline (R-Minnesota). “To make matters worse, the plan inches our nation’s schools toward a rigid, one-size-fits-all program that happens to be in the model he wants.”

A handful of states, including California, Montana, and Wyoming, have publicly rejected waivers as well as No Child Left Behind, citing the costs of changes a waiver would require and the substitution of one set of mandates for another.

“One top-down decade is enough,” said California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. “The law’s failures should prompt a thorough reassessment of the federal role in education, not merely the substitution of one set of inflexible requirements for another.”

Onerous Requirements, Revealing Data
The law requires 100 percent of students to be “proficient” in reading and math by 2014, a requirement most states have found onerous and far-fetched. 

“As a former superintendent who has been on the receiving end of No Child Left Behind, I know that well-intentioned ideas from Washington often do not make sense once they reach the classroom,” said Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colorado). Bennet attended the White House waiver announcement on Feb. 9. 

The law’s data collection requirements irked many superintendents and school boards by revealing failing students they previously hid among averaged test scores and proving that bigger budgets do not mean smarter students, said Jeanne Allen, president of The Center for Education Reform.

“Since it’s inception, NCLB has been the target of relentless opposition from districts and Superintendents whose voices only grew louder as mandates for data collection revealed little improvement and, in too many instances, continuous failure,” Allen said.

NCLB was due for reauthorization in 2007. Congress currently has several reauthorization proposals in play, but observers like the American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess say it’s unlikely they will actually pass a reauthorizing bill until after the 2012 elections. 

Image by Nick Knupffer.