Obama Grants No Child Left Behind Waivers to 10 States
Five months ago, President Obama asked the U.S. Department of Education to offer greater flexibility to states suffering from the rigid requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. On February 9, 2012, the President has announced that relief will be granted to the following 10 states: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Indiana and Massachusetts. These states will be granted waivers exempting them from certain aspects of the No Child Left Behind laws.
The waivers will allow states to move forward with their own plans to reform their ailing schools, but with some caveats: The states listed above will need to adopt rigorous standards, fix internal dysfunction in schools, close the gap between high-achieving students and those that fail to meet standards, and improve training and evaluation processes for principals and teachers.
One of the hallmarks of the No Child Left Behind Act was a commitment to standardized testing as an evaluative tool. In many states, like Indiana, students had to be assessed according to both federal and state standards. This caused confusion amongst Indiana citizens as to whether their schools were succeeding, when the state report and the federal report would provide conflicting information. Having been granted a waiver, Indiana will now be able to consolidate its assessment into a single report.
With this decreased emphasis on standardized testing, school administrators are hoping to focus on cultivating high-order thinking skills. In the time when teachers would otherwise have to cover topics that would appear on the standardized tests, educators can now work on teaching students how to critically read, how to analyze and how to synthesize information.
The flexibility granted to states receiving waivers has been a point of some disagreement amongst educational professionals.
Dr. Mitchell Chester, commissioner of elementary and secondary education in Massachusetts, cites a restructuring of expectations as a step in the right direction. Under the old NCLB laws, all U.S. schools were expected to bring their students up to grade level by 2014. Many felt this was an unreasonable request, and one that valued results over progress. Instead, the reformed laws have moved away from requiring a 100 percent success rate to demanding that, in the next six years, the number of students failing to meet grade-level standards be cut in half.
Spokespeople from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a Washington D.C.-based education think-tank, have come out saying that a great deal of frustration is on the horizon as many schools may receive less flexibility than they imagined.
Administrators in places like Miami will be happy. The waivers are estimated to save such districts nearly $20 million annually. This will allow for the expansion of the school day and the school year, as well as funding for supplementary education for struggling students.