WASHINGTON, February 8, 2012 - Yesterday, relief came for some of the 82% of American school systems that were likely to fail annual assessment mechanisms of the No Child Left Behind law. That law requires all schools that receive federal funding to have their students 100% proficient in reading and math by 2014.
On Thursday, the Obama administration granted waivers to 10 states from the requirement once they meet standards to prove students’ achievement matched or surpassed the NCLB benchmarks. Rather than a top bottom approach, those granted waivers came up with solutions for making education standards at the state and local level that the Department of Education approved, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told reporters on a call yesterday.
“If we’re serious about helping our children reach their potential, the best ideas aren’t going to come from Washington alone,” President Obama told a room full of educators, school administrators and teachers at the White House yesterday. “Our job is to harness those ideas, and to hold states and schools accountable for making them work.”
Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Tennessee are among the first states that will not have to meet the targets of NCLB.
The No Child Left Behind law, signed by President George Bush in 2001, measures student success primarily based on standardized test results. However, most states indicated that they are nowhere near meeting the requirements. There have been several incidences of schools and principals cheating by showing students answers in advance and changing their answers to meet the criteria. An example of cheating was evidenced in the Atlanta, Georgia school system last year and received a lot of attention.
Incidences like this fuel the opposition to the law. Critics say it pressures schools to meet benchmarks or be punished with funding withdrawal.
“The law’s rigid, punitive and prescriptive approach resulted in shifting goals, uneven standards and low expectations for students and schools,” remarked Director of the Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz. “The beauty of the waiver process is that it turns back to the states the responsibility to set a high bar, protect their children and ensure that their schools are successful.”
Not so, say some Republican lawmakers who complained that the move is an example of the Obama administration overstepping its bounds. Sentator Mike Enzi (R-WY), who is the ranking member of the Senate Committee charged with education accused the president of using the issue as a “political poker chip,” saying that the move “politicizes education policy, which historically has been a bipartisan issue.”
However, that position doesn’t match up with a provision in the overhaul bill just introduced by Republican lawmaker John Kline from Minnesota that specifically would preclude the Education Secretary from exchanging a waiver for the adoption of specific academic standards.
It’s not clear if Thursday’s action does that. However. It may not, given that the states came up with the benchmarks and standards themselves. The move is the result of a policy made last September allowing states to apply for waivers which would be granted once they create “college and career-ready standards.’
Duncan said states will implement their own accountability standards. For example, “under NCLB, only 21 percent of schools in Kentucky were accountable for African American students, and only 25 percent were accountable for students with disabilities, even though in the state of Kentucky 85 percent of schools have African American students in them, and 100 percent of schools have students with disabilities.” He said “Kentucky is now holding 99 percent of schools accountable for these and other traditionally under-served students.”
But supporters say NCLB has closed the achievement gap some. From 2010 to 2011 the number of schools making the “adequate yearly progress” benchmark increased from 39 percent to 48 percent, according to the nonprofit Center on Education Policy.
Progress is not coming fast enough for the White House.
The waiver process is part of the Obama campaign’s “We Can’t Wait” initiative whereby the administration has been rolling out a series of executive measures that do not require Congressional approval.
Whether relief eventually comes by waiver or by a Congressional overhaul, it’s good news that something is being done to alter the system that clearly wasn’t working well enough to truly education our nations’ youth.
Read more Politics of Raising Children in The Communities at the Washington Times. Follow Jeneba Ghatt at @JenebaSpeaks. Her work can also be read at JenebaSpeaksm BlackWeb 2.0 and Politic365. She also co-hosts a Blog Talk Radio show called Right of Black which tackles current events and politics from a perspective not often seen in the mainstream media.
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