Ten states are being granted waivers to free them from some requirements of the No Child Left Behind education reform law, with President Barack Obama explaining Thursday that the move aims to “combine greater freedom with greater accountability.”
Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Tennessee will no longer have to meet 2014 targets set by the law.
In exchange for that flexibility, the states “have agreed to raise standards, improve accountability, and undertake essential reforms to improve teacher effectiveness,” the White House said in a statement Thursday morning.
Obama elaborated on the rationale for the decision later in the day, speaking at a White House event attended by teachers and school superintendents.
He stressed that his administration remains committed to the overarching goals of raising standards and closing the achievement gap in the nation’s public schools. At the same time, “We determined we need a different approach” than what was prescribed by the landmark legislation.
“We’ve offered every state the same deal: We’ve said, if you’re willing to set higher, more honest standards then we’re going to give you the flexibility to meet those standards,” Obama said.
Each of those states granted waivers Thursday offered different approaches. Massachusetts, for instance, set a goal to slash its number of underperfoming students by half within six years; Colorado is setting up a comprehensive online database of assessment measures, among other steps; and New Jersey is developing an “early warning” system in an effort to prevent students from dropping out of school.
New Mexico also requested such flexibility from the No Child Left Behind law, and the Obama administration is working closely with that state. Another 28 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia also have indicated plans to seek such flexibility, according to the White House.
“This is good news for our kids, it’s good news for our country,” the president said of the waivers, adding that one approach may work well in one part of the country while another may better suit another place. “If we’re serious about seeing our children reach their full potential, the best ideas aren’t just going to come from here in Washington.”
President George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law in 2001. One of the bipartisan bill’s sponsors was the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, a Democrat from Massachusetts. The law included a focus on measuring student outcomes, largely based on standardized test results.
Some supporters say it has helped close an achievement gap between disadvantaged students and others.
But the law is a source of controversy, with opponents arguing it is turning classrooms into test preparation centers, taking time away from subjects that aren’t tested, and potentially contributing to cheating scandals.