President Obama Grants Waivers to 10 States for No Child Left Behind Act

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

Yesterday, President Barack Obama gave 10 states a waiver from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) 2001 Act. It was a bipartisan federal law signed by President George W. Bush on Jan. 8, 2002 that was a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The ESEA was enacted in 1965 and reauthorized in 1994. It was the federal government’s flagship aid program for disadvantaged students. The No Child Left Behind Act came at a time when the public was highly concerned about education. It was designed to drive improvements in student achievement and to hold states more accountable for student progress.

NCLB worked to help disadvantaged students and touched every public school in America while expanding the federal government’s role in education. The goal was to get students up to reading and math standards by 2014 by building accountability into the education system through standardized testing. If schools did not show progress, they would face sanctions.

Since its inception, NCLB has been under fire in the education community. Some high-performing schools began failing to meet set rates of improvement. By 2010, 38 percent of schools were failing to make mandated yearly progress. This was up 26 percent from 2006. States were also seeing high rates of failure to meet the benchmarks.

An opinion poll released in December 2003 found that nearly half of school principals and superintendents view the federal legislation as either politically motivated or aimed at undermining public schools. Likewise, a study by Policy Analysis for California suggested that, because of its requirement to evaluate school progress on the basis of demographic subgroups, the law might disproportionately penalize schools with diverse student populations (Public Agenda, 2003; Policy Analysis for California Education, 2003).

Educators say the law forces teachers to teach to the test rather than give their students a well-rounded education. NCLB does have supporters, even in the education world. Some believe the tough accountability mandates are “vital levers of change, inclusiveness, and transparency of results.”

Some politicians and citizens complain that the law gives the federal government too big of a role in education. Members from both political parties agree that the law has problems, but efforts to revise it have been stuck in Congress. Due to the slow process, President Obama’s administration began granting waivers this week.

“After waiting far too long for Congress to reform No Child Left Behind, my administration is giving states the opportunity to set higher, more honest standards in exchange for more flexibility,” said President Obama in a statement.

“Today, we’re giving 10 states the green light to continue making reforms that are best for them. Because if we’re serious about helping our children reach their potential, the best ideas aren’t going to come from Washington alone. Our job is to harness those ideas, and to hold states and schools accountable for making them work.”

President Obama is calling on Congress to continue to work on revising the law.

The states to receive waivers are Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee. New Mexico had also applied for a waiver in the first round and is continuing to work with the Obama administration.

States applied for the waivers because they were not going to meet the goals and could potentially face sanctions from the government.

Twenty-eight additional states with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico say they will also apply for a waiver.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he believes NCLB drives down standards, weakens accountability, narrows the curriculum and labels too many schools as failing. He also believes local educators should make decisions vs making those decisions on the federal level.

“Rather than dictating educational decisions from Washington, we want state and local educators to decide how to best meet the individual needs of students,” Duncan stated.

The Obama administration is not abandoning standards altogether.

“To get flexibility from NCLB, states must adopt and have a plan to implement college and career-ready standards. They must also create comprehensive systems of teacher and principal development, evaluation and support that include factors beyond test scores, such as principal observation, peer review, student work, or parent and student feedback,” according to the administration.

Here is a breakdown of the measures from NCLB (taken from

  • Annual Testing: By the 2005-06 school year, states were required to begin testing students in grades 3-8 annually in reading and mathematics. By 2007-08, they had to tests students in science at least once in elementary, middle, and high school. The tests had to be aligned with state academic standards. A sample of 4th and 8th graders in each state also had to participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress testing program in reading and math every other year to provide a point of comparison for state test results.
  • Academic Progress: States were required to bring all students up to the “proficient” level on state tests by the 2013-14 school year. Individual schools had to meet state “adequate yearly progress” targets toward this goal (based on a formula spelled out in the law) for both their student populations as a whole and for certain demographic subgroups. If a school receiving federal Title I funding failed to meet the target two years in a row, it would be provided technical assistance and its students would be offered a choice of other public schools to attend. Students in schools that failed to make adequate progress three years in a row also were offered supplemental educational services, including private tutoring. For continued failures, a school would be subject to outside corrective measures, including possible governance changes.
  • Report Cards: Starting with the 2002-03 school year, states were required to furnish annual report cards showing a range of information, including student-achievement data broken down by subgroup and information on the performance of school districts. Districts must provide similar report cards showing school-by-school data.
  • Teacher Qualifications: By the end of the 2005-06 school year, every teacher in core content areas working in a public school had to be “highly qualified” in each subject he or she taught. Under the law, “highly qualified” generally meant that a teacher was certified and demonstrably proficient in his or her subject matter. Beginning with the 2002-03 school year, all new teachers hired with federal Title I money had to be “highly qualified.” By the end of the 2005-06 school year, all school paraprofessionals hired with Title I money must have completed at least two years of college, obtained an associate’s degree or higher, or passed an evaluation to demonstrate knowledge and teaching ability.
  • Reading First: The act created a new competitive-grant program called Reading First, funded at $1.02 billion in 2004, to help states and districts set up “scientific, research-based” reading programs for children in grades K-3 (with priority given to high-poverty areas). A smaller early-reading program sought to help states better prepare 3- to 5-year-olds in disadvantaged areas to read. The program’s funding was later cut drastically by Congress amid budget talks.
  • Funding Changes: Through an alteration in the Title I funding formula, the No Child Left Behind Act was expected to better target resources to school districts with high concentrations of poor children. The law also included provisions intended to give states and districts greater flexibility in how they spent a portion of their federal allotments.


1 reply
  1. Michael Sanderson
    Michael Sanderson says:

    As an educator, I believe NCLB has been a failure. Teachers are so focused on “The Test” that they spend more time on testing strategies (narrowing the odds) than actually teaching the actual content. There has been, however, one good point. NCLB allowed people without education degrees to become certified, once they were able to prove profficiency in the content area. My degree was in Business Administration, and I became a teacher after 25 years in the business world. I ama middle school science teacher, and my students are some of the top in our district every year. I refuse to teach to the lowest acceptable level, aka “The Test”. I was lucky that my first Principal had trust in me and allowed me to teach my way. My new Principal could not argue with my results. My students conduct year long outdoor environmental studies, write letters to government leaders, and take a role in their community. They have a better understanding of what science is, a true love of science, and are on the road to becoming productive, valuable citizens.


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