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No Child Left Behind Waivers: 11 States Seek Relief From Federal Education Law

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NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at an event on reform of the "No Child Left Behind" educational program in the East Room of the White House September 23, 2011 in Washington, DC. | Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Education announced Tuesday that 11 states have formally submitted requests for waivers from key provisions of No Child Left Behind.

Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Tennessee have submitted to the Education Department curriculums and plans catered to their localities in exchange for flexibility from federal education mandates.

The submissions come after President Barack Obama's September announcement that the administration would offer a "flexibility package" to states if they demonstrate a true commitment to reform, unleashing "energy to improve our schools at the local level." More states are expected to apply in later rounds -- through next spring -- but some like California may be shying away from the option because of the high costs associated with the waivers.

Drafted reform efforts must map out plans to implement college- and career-ready standards, develop accountability systems that assist low-performing schools and schools with persistent achievement gaps, and create improved systems for developing, supporting and evaluating educators.

No Child Left Behind mandates regular standardized testing and aims to achieve math and reading proficiency among all students by 2014 -- but an increasing number of schools have been labeled as "failing" under the law, in part resulting from the reporting method's emphasis on raw scores versus change in scores over time.

If the states' drafted plans are approved, they will:
  • Set performance goals to graduate students from high school who are prepared for college and careers. They will no longer be required to meet NCLB deadlines in 2014 "based on arbitrary methods of proficiency
  • Design interventions that are catered to the needs of their localities, versus the federal "one-size-fits-all" remedies.
  • Be able to measure school progress using multiple measures, instead of just test scores
  • Have more flexibility in how Title I funding is spent.

"Clearly, there's tremendous urgency for reform at the local level because our economy and our future are directly tied to the quality of public education," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement Tuesday. "States and districts want flexibility from NCLB so they can make local decisions in the best interests of children—and they can't wait any longer."

Tennessee's plan indicates a "reasonable" expectation to see a gain in math and reading proficiency by 3 to 5 percent annually, compared to the current NCLB expectations of 20 percent gains under Adequate Yearly Progress, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports.

"Unfortunately, the rising rates of proficiency required to achieve AYP make no sense," state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman told the Commercial Appeal.

Tennessee schools will also be expected to close the achievement gap by 6 percentage points annually, and will distribute large portions of its funding to the lowest performing schools and schools with high achievement gaps -- instead of distributing the grants evenly.

Georgia's submission includes a plan to implement a new College and Career Ready Performance Index that varies based on grade levels. Instead of measuring progress simply by test scores, the CCRPI will determine state, district, school, educator and student progress by incorporating measurements of content mastery, student attendance and next-level preparedness, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.

"This approach will do more to ensure that the K-12 experience provides students with the academic preparation to compete globally, as well as the career development skills aligned with the evolving requirements of our workforce," State School Superintendent John Barge said in a statement Tuesday.

The new system looks to improve upon AYP calculations by focusing on school improvement and student preparedness for the future. The CCRPI would offer an in-depth look at student college- and career-readiness, something not covered by AYP, by providing measurements of achievement score, progress score and achievement gap closure score.

No Child Left Behind has been up for renewal for four years, but congressional gridlock has so far hindered formal reauthorization. Since Obama and Duncan announced the waiver plan without the consent of Congress, lawmakers have introduced several bills that would revise the federal education law that legislators will revisit in the coming weeks.

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