Waivers Available for No Child Left Behind Act

States can now get waivers from the requirements of No Child Left Behind, the Bush-era education law.  In exchange they’ll have to come up with ways on the state level to boost student achievement and close gaps in performance.  Alaska and other states have long criticized the law, saying it doesn’t give enough help to struggling schools and over-tests students, takes a one-size-fits-all approach, and doesn’t account for the uniqueness of places like rural Alaska.

President Obama announced the change this morning in the White House East Room surrounded by educators and students.

“Our kids only get 1 shot at a decent education.  They cannot afford to wait any longer.  So given that congress cannot act, I am acting. Starting today,” Obama said.

The White House has been pushing Congress to rewrite the nation’s education law to update it and throw out some of No Child Left Behind’s requirements, but legislation has not yet moved forward.

“So starting today we’ll be giving states more flexibility to meet high standards.  Keep in mind the change we’re making is not lowering standards, we’re saying we’re going to give you more flexibility to meet high standards.  We’re going to let states, teachers and schools come up with innovative ways to give our children the skills they need to compete for the jobs of the future,” Obama said.

The White House says states, districts and schools will have more flexibility to use federal funds in ways deemed most important at the local level – and rural districts will have additional flexibility.

The new plan minimizes the power of No Child Left Behind to label a school as failing and states will have more power to figure out how to improve low performing schools.  States will also be able to set their own goals to boost student achievement rather than hitting the current requirement of proficiency by 2014.

To get this new flexibility though, states must hit some requirements.

They have to adopt standards in major subject areas to prepare kids for college or careers, including non-native English speakers and students with learning disabilities.  They have to come up with a system to reward improving schools and high achieving ones serving low income students and have a plan to intervene in the lowest performing schools.  States must also set guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation.

The Obama Administration has another education program called Race to the Top that offered millions of dollars in grants on a competitive basis.  Alaska was one of only two states that did not apply in its first round, saying it had too many strings attached and called for too much change.  Alaska’s Democratic Senator Mark Begich encouraged Governor Sean Parnell to apply, but the state also skipped round two.

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