No Child Left Behind was one of President George W. Bush's most touted domestic accomplishments, and was passed with widespread bipartisan support in Congress. It has been up for renewal since 2007. But lawmakers have been stymied for years by competing priorities, disagreements over how much of a federal role there should be in schools and, in the recent Congress, partisan gridlock.
The law requires annual testing, and districts were forced to keep a closer eye on how students of all races were performing — not just relying on collective averages. Schools that didn't meet requirements for two years or longer faced increasingly harsher consequences, including busing children to higher-performing schools, offering tutoring and replacing staff.
Over the years, the law became increasingly unpopular, itself blamed for many ills in schools. Teachers and parents complained it led to "teaching to the test." Parents didn't like the stigma of sending their kids to a school labeled a failure when requirements weren't met. States, districts and schools said the law was too rigid and that they could do a better job coming up with strategies to turn around poor performance.
A common complaint was that the 2014 deadline was simply unrealistic.
As the deadline approaches, more schools are failing to meet requirements under the law, with nearly half not doing so last year, according to the Center on Education Policy. Center officials said that's because some states today have harder tests or have high numbers of immigrant and low-income children, but it's also because the law requires states to raise the bar each year for how many children must pass.
The current law requires schools to use standardized tests in math and reading to determine student progress. The waivers announced Thursday do not excuse states from those requirements but instead give them the freedom to use science, social studies and other subjects in their measures of student progress.