Responding to predictions that waves of U.S. schools would be proclaimed failing, the Obama White House delivered on its promise to offer states relief from the controversial provision of No Child Left Behind that all children demonstrate proficiency in math and reading by 2014.
That goal was always condemned by educators as pie-in-the-sky and has been blamed for the testing frenzy gripping and — some critics says — paralyzing American classrooms.
In a press call this afternoon, Melody Barnes, director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House, said the failure of Congress to reform the No Child Left Behind led the White House to announce that it will grant waivers from the stringent 2014 goals.
Barnes said that she hoped every state would apply but that flexibility will only be given to those that “embrace reform” and accept accountability.
“When I was in Chicago, I never looked forward from a call from Washington telling me what we had to do,” said U. S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Saying that No Child was ”loose on goals and tight on the means of getting there,” Duncan repeated his standard criticisms of the Bush era law: it imposed a one-size-fits-all formula on all schools and stood in the path of organic reform.
Duncan said states dumbed down standards to satisfy No Child Left Behind, citing Tennessee as an offender. But now, he says Tennessee is raising its standards. “For states that are doing that, we want to give them a lot flexibility to hit that bar,” said Duncan.
Duncan made clear that he is not looking to just tweak No Child, but made “basic change.”
He wants to get rid of No Child’s reliance on test scores to determine adequate yearly progress for schools. Under No Child, Duncan said schools showing progress were labeled as failing because they did not achieve some absolute score.
“It was dishonest. It demoralized teachers and principals who were working hard and was confusing to parents. Where we are seeing progress, we want to reward that,” said Duncan, noting that some states would have 90 percent of their schools deemed failing under the current provisions of No Child.
The overall message of the press briefing is that the federal government will not hold states liable for the law’s ambitious proficiency targets as long as the state is moving down the reform path set by President Obama and Duncan and showing progress.
A panel will decide which states are moving in the right direction and deserve waivers, which then will be approved by Duncan himself. Some states have already applied for waivers from NCLB, but they will all be considered in September once all applications are submitted.
While Duncan said qualifying states will be granted waivers, it is still unclear exactly what states have to do to qualify. Those terms are being assembled now, he said, and will be released next month.
From the general description given thus far, it sounds like Race to the Top winners will qualify as the criteria to win a waiver aligns closely with the requirements to win a grant. In that case, Georgia ought to be a cinch for a waiver since the state is a Race to the Top winner and is at work on fulfilling all the requirements attached to the $400 million grant.
Among them: Adopt career and work ready standards, focus on closing the achievement gap, impose a “flexible and targeted” accountability system for teachers that considers student progress and develop and use data to inform policy and practice.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog