The much-touted No Child Left Behind law is itself being left behind.
With three more states last week applying for waivers from the law, only Nebraska, Vermont and Montana have not asked the Obama administration to free them from the goals and deadlines of former President George W. Bush’s sweeping education reform plan.
“We continue to see growing momentum for education reform nationwide, and these requests reflect the desire of states to have more flexibility in implementing their locally developed ideas about how to improve education — and not be forced into a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “We look forward to continuing to work with leaders to support teachers and better prepare all students for college and careers.”
On Friday, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wyoming became the latest states to ask the administration for exemptions from NCLB. A total of 34 states plus the District of Columbia have been granted waivers from the law, with another 13 applications pending administration approval.
Successful applications have differed in their details, but they have included the same core elements: a plan to develop strong college and career readiness programs; a greater focus on teacher effectiveness and evaluation systems; and accountability for the lowest-performing schools.
The waiver system was designed to allow the federal government to establish broad education goals for states and schools to pursue, but also to allow them flexibility in how to achieve them.
NCLB, on the other hand, now is viewed as too heavy-handed and far too focused on standardized testing. While it was heralded in 2001 as both a historic achievement for American schools and a rare example of true bipartisanship, it has fallen out of favor with virtually everyone in the education community.
Even those who support its key goals — accountability for schools and teachers and equal opportunities for all children — admit that the law is no longer practical.
States and school districts have become especially frustrated with the law’s “adequate yearly progress” mandate, which calls for 100 percent of students to be proficient in reading and math by next year. Noble as it may be, that goal is seen as entirely unrealistic.
While NCLB has grown unpopular everywhere, the three holdout states have their own reasons for avoiding the administration’s waiver proposal.
Officials in Vermont, for example, have said that the “flexibility” offered by the Education Department isn’t flexible enough. The state initially applied for a waiver, but later withdrew its request.
Before applying last week, Pennsylvania had cited the presidential election as the reason for its delay. A comprehensive education reform plan put forth by a GOP candidate Mitt Romney would have rendered moot the waiver system.
But even with President Obama still in the White House, the waiver program faces an uncertain future. In testimony to Congress last month, Mr. Duncan said the system will disappear the moment lawmakers pass their own education reform package.
Despite years of work, that goal still appears far off, though members on both sides of the aisle remain optimistic a deal can be reached in this Congress.