Obama administration to offer states NCLB waivers

The U.S. Department of Education has announced it will offer states relief from the strict accountability centerpiece of No Child Left Behind, even without Congressional authority to provide reprieves to states failing to meet accountability benchmarks.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Melody Barnes, director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House, announced the plans on Friday.  Duncan said the specifics of the package will be made public in September.

The decision to unilaterally override the requirement that 100 percent of students be proficient in math and reading by 2014 comes after several states sought waivers from the U.S. DOE. Education leaders in other states also have indicated they may seek waivers. "The states are desperately asking for us to respond," Duncan said.

Duncan indicated that although specific requirements have not been established, waivers would only be granted to states that agree to changes such as raising academic standards and evaluating teacher effectiveness based on student achievement and other measures, among other conditions. Attempts to prod Congress into overhauling NCLB have been unsuccessful thus far, although it appears bi-partisan agreement exists in Congress that significant changes to the 2002 law are needed.

In an article appearing in The Washington Post, Rep. John Kline, who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, indicated administration’s actions might interfere with his plans to complete a reauthorization package this fall. “I remain concerned that temporary measures instituted by the department, such as conditional waivers, could undermine the committee’s efforts,” Kline’s spokesperson reportedly said.

"With no clear path to a bipartisan bill in Congress, the President has directed us to move forward with an administrative process to provide flexibility within the law for states and districts that are willing to embrace reform," Barnes said.

For the U.S. DOE’s responses to its “Top 5 Question about NCLB Flexibility,” see http://www.ed.gov/blog/2011/08/top-5-questions-about-nclb-flexibility/.