Leaving Behind No Child Left Behind


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.”

Melody Barnes, director of President Obama’s White House Domestic Policy Council, emphasized that, while all states would be able to apply for waivers regarding NCLB’s accountability, only those seen as instituting “ambitious school improvement initiatives” — such as their own testing and accountability programs — would be granted them. The waivers, she said, are “not a pass on accountability.”

Barnes also said that, with the new school year about to start (and on the verge of starting in some states), “we still believe there is no clear path toward a bipartisan bill to reform “No Child Left Behind.” In Politico, Senator Tom Harkin, the chairman of  the Senate education committee and a Democrat from Iowa, also said that it was “understandable” that Duncan has chosen to pursue the waiver plan as — in a comment that resonates after the debacle over the debt-ceiling negotiations — “it is undeniable that this Congress faces real challenges reaching bipartisan, bicameral agreement on anything.”

The plan, says Duncan, is meant to serve as a “bridge” or a “transition” to further action by Congress and not be a challenge to House Education and Workforce Committee chairman John Kline’s legislation. Kline, a Minnesota Republican, has challenged Duncan’s right to issue waivers in a June letter. His committees has completed three overhaul bills focusing on elimination of federal programs, financial flexibility for states, and charter schools. But the committee has yet to produce bills reforming the law’s provisions for school accountability and teacher effectiveness provisions.

In September, Duncan says a plan will be announced about how to apply for the waivers, says the New York Times:

For a waiver to be approved, they said, states would need to show that they were adopting higher standards under which high school students were “college- and career-ready” at graduation, were working to improve teacher effectiveness and evaluation systems based on student test scores and other measures, were overhauling the lowest-performing schools, and were adopting locally designed school accountability systems to replace No Child’s pass-fail system.

Those requirements match the criteria the administration used last year in picking winning states in its two-stage Race to the Top grant competition.

Critics say that Duncan’s plan is simply another round of Race to the Top. But school officials are likely to support it; some states, including Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee, have already applied for waivers — and some schools (Idaho, South Dakota and Montana) have already informed the Education Department that they will ignore parts of the law.

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Photo by USDA Gov


Carole R.
Carole R6 years ago

"No child left behind" sounds great but it hasn't worked from the beginning. It is time to scrape it.

monica r.
monica r6 years ago

It's about damn time!

This is just an "everyone's a winner" fairy tale. Not everyone will excel at reading or at math. Some will suck at it. Also special ed kids are expected to do just as well but do they get the supports they need to meet it? Because they are taking the same standardized tests as regular ed kids do.

If we can find a way to encourage each child's strengths rather than create an unattainable goal, we'd do far better. Finland is top in education and they don't do standardized testing.

Anne Brabson
Anne B6 years ago

100% proficiency in both math and reading by 2014-what a farce! NO generation in any age group at any time could meet such impossible standards! NCLB should have been dealt with LONG ago for a multitude of reasons but never more so than now,for the sake of all those who are diligently working towards success in public education in the presence of such humiliating conditions. Talk about setting people up to fail... NCLB has done just that!!

John Doucette
John Doucette6 years ago

Lots of children have been left behind. With the current assault on education by the far right, even more children are going to be left behind. Not only will these children suffer, so will the rest of society by disallowing these children to achieve their potential.

Brandt H.
Brandt H.6 years ago

As a Tennessean, I don’t believe we should be excused from these National Standards. It is simply embarrassing that our new maverick Governor is asking for an exemption because our state has failed to raise the bar on education. Bill Haslam is passing a slew of laws in our state to infringe on Civil Liberties and First Amendment Rights with the Don’t Say Gay bill and making it Illegal to post offensive images to the internet. As an artist, I was compelled to react to Bill’s railroading of the Constitution and ignorance of standards set forth by our Government. You can see my portrait of our Governor which shows another side of his politics at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/07/potentially-offensive-portrait-governor.html

Tim Cheung
Tim C6 years ago


Norma V.
Norma Villarreal6 years ago

No Child Left Behind SHOULD me left behind....

Jamie Clemons
Jamie Clemons6 years ago

Another insane scam created by the bush administration to undermine our school systems continued with the full support of Obama a closet republican.

Deborah Kampfer
Deborah Vitek6 years ago

It would help if we would actually educate children in the form of teaching them to read and think rather than standardizing everything and making them into ignorant consumers. Daniel Quinn says it all about education in his book, "My Ishmael. It would be such an interesting experiment to see what would happen if for about three generations people received a true "education", rather than indoctrination.

Robert B.
Robert B6 years ago

This was a law formulated and passed by politicians. As Ross Perot suggested during his campaign, find a teaching method that is working and duplicate those methods. Politicians are not educators, they need to stay out of the education business other than to encourage and fully fund working education methods.