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Two more states granted waivers from No Child Left Behind, for total of 26

Washington State and Wisconsin were approved Friday for No Child Left Behind waivers. The Obama administration has argued that children can’t wait for Congress to revise the federal law.

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In this June 25 file photo, during a fact-finding tour of Vashon High School, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (c.) listens to eighth-grade students Delvion Mitchell and Makayla Lewis, as they discuss social issues they have encountered at school and what they have learned from them, in St. Louis.

J.B. Forbes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP/File

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With the approval Friday of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers for Washington State and Wisconsin, more than half the states are now moving forward with their own accountability plans for schools.

President Obama directed the US Department of Education last year to start the waiver process to give states flexibility from some parts of the federal law, which has been due for a rewrite since 2007.

In exchange, states have to show detailed plans for preparing all students for college and careers, targeting federal aid to the students most in need, and pushing for better evaluation and support of teachers and principals.

Twenty-six states have now had waiver plans approved. Another 10 states, plus the District of Columbia, have waiver applications pending.

“It is a remarkable milestone that ... more than half of the states in the country have adopted state-developed, next-generation education reforms,” said US Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a statement Friday. “A strong, bipartisan reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act [the formal name of NCLB] remains the best path forward in education reform, but as 26 states have now demonstrated, our kids can’t wait any longer for Congress to act.”

But with waiver applications running hundreds of pages long, there could be unintended consequences down the road, just as there have been with NCLB, says Maria Ferguson, executive director of the Center on Education Policy in Washington. “You always worry about robbing Peter and paying Paul,” she says, “and right now it’s just a big question mark." She adds, "Some states are going to be pretty well prepared to see their plans through, others not so much.”

It will take years to phase in all the elements of Wisconsin’s waiver plan, notes Wisconsin superintendent Tony Evers. The “ambitious education reform package,” he said in a statement, “is based on college- and career-ready expectations, increased academic rigor, and a multiple-measures approach to assessment and accountability for students and schools.”

Some highlights of the Wisconsin plan:

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Washington State’s plan, which has many similar elements, will free up the state to use more flexibly the $34 million that NCLB had required to be spent on outside providers for services such as tutoring.

Some congressional Republicans have criticized the Obama administration and Secretary Duncan for overstepping their authority in granting such waivers. Their answer to Mr. Obama’s mantra of “we can’t wait” has been to introduce several education reform bills – to make charter schools more widely available, give states and school districts more flexibility in how they spend federal dollars, and boost teacher effectiveness.

In addition to Wisconsin and Washington, the states that have been approved for waivers from NCLB are: Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia.

Sept. 6 is the deadline for states that want to apply for the next round of waivers.

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