Kids Are Still Feeling the Effects of No Child Left Behind

Obama’s NCLB waivers were in the hot seat this week.

The Obama administration's NCLB waivers are under scrutiny. (Photo: Getty Images)
Suzi Parker is a regular contributor to TakePart. Her work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan decided months ago to stay on in the Obama administration if the president is reelected.

But it may not be all smooth sailing for Duncan in his second term.

On Thursday Duncan appeared before the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions committee to discuss for the first time the Obama administration’s No Child Left Behind waivers.

The waiver plan was created in order to let states opt out of NCLB structures. In exchange for the waiver, states must adopt elements from Obama’s education agenda. Waiver plans have been accepted from 34 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Bureau of Indian Education.

The reason for the waivers is simple.

President George W. Bush signed NCLB into law in 2002, but it expired in 2007. Congress failed to enact a new version of the law. Obama attempted to pass a law that would dissolve NCLB, but Congress failed to pass that too. Then Obama tried to rewrite the act, but again, Congress faced gridlock.

Instead, schools were struggling to meet the regulations—such as 100 percent proficiency in math and English by the following year. If they didn’t, they would have faced financial penalties, such as loss of federal Title I money as a failing school.

In turn, Obama created waivers as a stop-gap measure. In order to receive the waivers, schools have to create a plan and meet requirements.

Duncan has never been a fan of the waivers. But they are better than nothing. On Thursday he said that he would prefer Congress reauthorize or amend the law. But Duncan said he was “not willing to stand by idly and do nothing while students and educators continue to suffer under NCLB.”

Throughout the country, schools and states are celebrating their success under the waivers that grant flexibility to states and districts while still meeting federal guidelines.

Minnesota set up an alternative system under the NCLB waiver of monitoring school performance, called the Multiple Measure Ratings accountability system. It emphasizes student growth and performance of diverse and disadvantaged students.

In Idaho, the state created a “Five-Star Rating System” to judge school success in proficiency, academic growth, and measures of readiness for post-secondary education or careers. In Arkansas, schools are still assessed annually on student performance in math and reading, but also on achievement growth and high school graduation rate.

Some states, however, have been rejected for the waivers. California's application for a waiver was rejected in December after the state refused to tie student performance to an evaluation system.

Democratic and Republican Senators agreed on Thursday that legislation by Congress was needed.

“The bottom line is that it expired in 2007 except for a provision that says if Congress didn’t act, it would continue; and Congress didn’t act, so it’s continuing,” said Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, the ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Alexander added, “That’s our fault. That’s on us.”

Last week, CEOs at several U.S. companies urged Congress to rewrite the law in order to promote business growth in 2013. But even with outside pressure, it remains unclear exactly when Congress will write a new federal education law.

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