08/10/2011 02:05 pm ET | Updated Oct 09, 2011

'No Child Left Behind' Waivers Don't Equal Change

Originally published on, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.

By: Robyn Gee

Ask any teacher and they might tell you the "No Child Left Behind" program is broken. As new waivers to get around the law have been implemented, some say it won't help. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced Monday that states will be able to apply for waivers if they wish to be exempt from the requirements laid out in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, put in place during the Bush administration to raise academic standards, according to NPR.

The Washington Post quotes Duncan saying that states and local administrations are “clamoring” for change and that the law is dysfunctional, and calls for 100 percent of students to be proficient in math and reading by the year 2014, without providing support structures to reach that goal.

The Obama administration called for a major revision of the law, but Congress has yet to produce a draft. Since the law was up for re-authorization and revision, some in the House and Senate, as well as educators, are worried that the waivers will confuse the debate, and take the focus off of the major changes they believe need to be addressed in the re-writing of NCLB.

Others don’t think the waivers will matter at all.

One of these voices is Edward Williams, 2009 Teach for America corps member in Atlanta, Georgia, and current student at Georgetown University Law Center. “Arne Duncan and the Obama administrations' ‘waivers’ from the penalties of not meeting NCLB standards will not likely have any tangible results... It simply doesn’t force states that receive the waivers to implement the burdensome takeover models prescribed in the federal legislation,” he said.

Williams taught at one of the schools in Atlanta that was implicated in the Atlanta cheating scandal. In some sense, the waivers seem like a direct response to the issues teachers raised when responding to accusations of cheating. Many teachers said that the pressure to move kids towards proficiency had gotten out of hand. However, Williams thinks the top down pressure will remain the same, even if they receive a federal waiver. “Especially in schools like the one in which I taught. As Georgia moves toward pay-for-performance in the coming years, the pressure to produce high test scores ‘by any means necessary’ will increase as people’s livelihoods are more directly connected to test scores,” said Williams.

When Williams was a teacher, he encountered pressure related to NCLB and test scores at the beginning of each school year and a couple months before statewide testing. Just a few weeks after school had started, he said he was forced to rank his students by their likelihood to pass the end of year assessment. His administrator would ask how many students he expected to score proficient. If Williams said, “I have 15,” the administrator might say, “We need 17 to meet our AYP” (Adequate Yearly Progress). It would be on Williams to make the numbers work.

Williams said his students were usually separated into classes based on their expected proficiency level as testing season approached. According to Williams, this did not mean more resources were dedicated to the students who were behind. “This usually meant a diminished focus on the students that [needed] attention the most and increased focus on bumping students who were on the cusps into the proficiency and above proficiency levels. As a teacher, this was disheartening,” he said. Williams also noticed that if the number of students not expected to meet statewide proficiency levels was “acceptable” according to NCLB, then these students were often ignored or deprioritized.

With this kind of pressure, it’s no wonder that teachers changed their students’ test scores. “Every teacher knew that something was wrong. When a child walks into a fifth grade classroom reading on a first grade level, but has somehow passed the third and fourth grade reading exams with proficiency, you immediately recognize that something is wrong,” he said.

Even though Williams saw the problems in his own school district, he knows the problem is not unique to Atlanta. “In my view, the system in which American children are educated is a result of the laws and policies which create its structure. Because I believe that the achievement gap is a systemic, structural problem, I want to work to fix the problem from its core," he said.

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