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Virginia freed from federal No Child Left Behind education law

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Virginia is one of the latest states to slip out from under the federal No Child Left Behind education law.

The Department of Education on Friday granted five more waivers from the widely maligned, decade-old act. In addition to Virginia, Arkansas, Missouri, South Dakota and Utah will no longer be subject to the tough "adequate yearly progress" system and other NCLB mandates.

"Their plans are the product of bold, forward-thinking state and local leaders who have moved beyond the tired old battles and partisan bickering to roll up their sleeves and start working together," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement Friday.

Two dozen states have now been released from the law, the first major domestic legislative achievement of former President George W. Bush's administration and the product of a bipartisan effort spearheaded by the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

Another 12 states and the District have also submitted waiver requests, which are currently under review and must be approved by Mr. Duncan.

The 2002 law was designed to raise educational standards for all U.S. schools, but critics say its mandates and one-size-fits-all achievement goals are both onerous and utterly unrealistic.

One such goal is that 100 percent of students be proficient in reading and math by 2014. For states in which NCLB remains in place, schools will be classified as "failing" if they fail to meet the bar.

States such as Virginia have sought to move ahead with their own reform plans designed specifically for their student populations, but had been held back by federal requirements under NCLB.

"Virginia schools and school divisions can now focus their energy and resources on implementing the state Board of Education's rigorous new content standards and assessments without contending with outdated and often counterproductive federal requirements and rules," said Virginia's Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright. "The commonwealth will continue to hold schools accountable for closing achievement gaps but schools won't be subject to a system of increasingly unrealistic annual objectives."

The waiver system was announced by Mr. Duncan and President Obama last fall and has been billed as the administration's "Plan B" for education reform.

The president has also touted it as one example of his ongoing effort to enact significant legislative change without Congress, which thus far has been unable to come to a bipartisan agreement on how to replace NCLB.

Despite widespread agreement from both House Republicans and Senate Democrats, as well as nearly everyone in the education community, that the law must be changed, a comprehensive reform effort has proved elusive.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has passed its own reform bill. It quickly stalled after clearing the committee, where it garnered three Republican votes.

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce has also passed a broad education overhaul package, parts of which have passed the full House of Representatives.

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