In what has been called one the most prominent acts of his presidency, President Obama has announced an executive action to free 10 states from the stringent requirements of the more than a decade old No Child Left Behind Act.
No Child Left Behind requires all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Obama’s revised action plan of the law revealed on Thursday, however, strips away the timeline and gives the 10 states approved flexibility from the law’s burdensome mandates. In exchange for the flexibility, states have agreed to provide a viable plan to prepare children for college and careers.
“We fully believe that these states' accountability plans will reach more children, will give more resources to those children most at risk, and will ultimately help many more children improve,” Education Secretary Arnie Duncan said.
The first 10 states to receive the waivers are Florida, New Jersey, Tennessee, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Oklahoma. The only state that applied for the flexibility and did not receive it is New Mexico. The state is currently working with the administration to get approval and 28 other states along with D.C. and Puerto Rico have indicated their intent to seek waivers.
Under Obama’s revised deal, states will be required to set new targets to improve achievement among all students. In return, the best performing schools will be rewarded and help will be focused on schools performing at the worst levels and with the highest achievement gaps.
Just a few months ago in September, Obama called one of President George W. Bush’s most acclaimed accomplishments admirable, but a flawed effort that hurt students instead of helping them. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that the current law drives down standards, weakens accountability and labels too many schools as failing. In addition, critics said the 2014 deadline was unrealistic and that the law led to solely teaching information that would be seen on proficiency tests.
“The kinds of evaluation systems states are now developing will allow them to connect the best teachers with the students who need them the most,” Duncan said. He went on to say that the revised plan assures that students with extra needs and those with disadvantaged backgrounds receive the help they need and deserve.
No Child Left Behind was primarily designed to get the nation’s poor and minority children to grade level in reading and math. Unfortunately, because select states have harder tests or higher numbers of immigrant or low-income children, the law to reach proficiency was far from attainable for many.
Although the pressure will still probably be on the lowest-performing schools in states granted a waiver, schools will have the flexibility to spend their federal dollars on programs that will truly help students gain life-long skills needed for their long-term success.
“Every year approximately one million people leave our schools for the streets. Every year, hundreds of thousands more go to college where they must take remedial classes and burn Pell grants because their high schools did not prepare them adequately,” Duncan said. “This is all morally unacceptable and our economy can’t sustain this. We must get better faster.”
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