States Seek Waivers From No Child Left Behind law


With an update to the No Child Left Behind Act stalled in Congress, an increasing number of states are asking to be exempted from requirements in the ten-year old education law. So far the results have been mixed.

In June, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he planned to provide "regulatory flexibility" to states on NCLB requirements because of the bottleneck in Congress. States have complained that escalating benchmarks for pupil performance in the current version of the law — described by Duncan as a "slow-motion train wreck" — would force them to classify hundreds of additional schools as unsatisfactory.

Last week, Idaho was given permission by Duncan's department to maintain the same proficiency targets in reading and math for a third straight year, the maximum allowable under the law, Education Week reports . But earlier in July, Montana was told that it could lose some of its $44 million in federal Title I education funds  - tied to compliance with NCLB-if it maintained the same targets for a fourth straight year .

Tennessee is asking for a much more comprehensive NCLB waiver, according to The Tennessean of Nashville. The state, which won a Race to the Top grant of $500 million from the Obama administration last year, is hoping to substitute its own standards for the federal ones. The state hasn't heard back yet from the department.

All told, during the past six months the department has received waiver requests from five states. In addition to Tennessee's request, Kentucky, Arkansas, Kansas and Michigan have asked for relief. Utah, like Idaho, has worked with the department to modify its performance standards but has not officially asked for a waiver.

Though Duncan's June announcement on flexibility indicated that a formal waiver process would be forthcoming, the department has yet to release a final plan on how waivers would work and what alternative standards states might be required to achieve in place of the current ones. Education Week reports that there could be multiple types of waivers and that states could be asked to meet new kinds of standards, such as college and career readiness goals, instead of the current standardized test performance thresholds.

Under the 2001 NCLB law, states determine a course for gradually increasing the percentage of students achieving proficiency in reading and math, with a goal of achieving 100 percent proficiency in both subjects by the 2013-14 school year. Many states back-loaded their goals, the Associated Press has reported, with the expectation that the law would be changed before the final targets needed to be met.

Consequences for failing to achieve adequate yearly progress under the current rules can include the loss of Title I funds, which are given to schools with a high-percentage of low-income students, and demands that they restructure or allow students to transfer to better-performing schools. 


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