U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has announced that he will unilaterally override the No Child Left Behind law. States will unilaterally be issued waivers exempting them from some of the law’s regulations; in particular, states will be exempted from the requirement that all students be proficient in math and reading by 2014, says the New York Times. Duncan announced the changes in a Friday night conference that he said could not be reported until midnight on Sunday.
Duncan said that he has decided to pursue the waivers because Congress has so far failed to rewrite the law, which was signed by President George W. Bush in 2002. But states and local school districts have long clamored for relief from NCLB and the sanctions they face if they do not meet its requirements.
NCLB used standardized test scores in schools, particularly those serving minority students, as its central focus. While states could adopt local academic standards and set passing scores under NCLB, the requirement that 100 percent of students be proficient in math and reading by 2014 actually had the effect of lower standards: Districts made standards easier so more students could score as proficient. More than 40 states have adopted higher standards since 2010 and the 2014 deadline is “complicating their efforts,” said Duncan. As one example, the New York Times points out that
In Tennessee, for instance, 91 percent of students scored at or above the proficient level in math under the state’s old standards, but under new, tougher standards adopted recently, the proportion plummeted to 34 percent.
Last year, about 38,000 of the nation’s 100,000 public schools did not meet their targets and Duncan predicts that 80,000 will this year. EdWeek puts the number even higher, at 82 percent. Under NCLB’s rating system, “eighty-nine percent of Florida’s public schools, for instance, missed federal testing targets, although 58 percent of Florida schools earned an A under the state’s own well-regarded grading system.”
School administration officials have also criticized the law for failing to take into account differences in schools low-income and urban school that are in “chronic failure” vs. those that are improving, and between “high-performing suburban schools that nonetheless appear to be neglecting some low-scoring students.”
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