A decade after being signed into law with bipartisan support, the No Child Left Behind Act is looking decidedly unhealthy. Eleven states applied for waivers in the first round and all were granted. Twenty-six more states have applied for exemption in the second round. If all requests are again granted, that would leave only a quarter of states still bound by the toughest terms of NCLB. September 6th marks the deadline for final round submissions by which time it’s entirely possible all states will have been granted individual exemptions.
The other states that applied for a waiver in the latest round are Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.
While the administration bypassing congressional authority is provoking complaints from Republicans, it’s also true that:
No Child Left Behind is now reviled by Republicans, who say it gets the federal government too involved in education, and by Democrats, who complain that its rigid definitions of performance have seen almost half the nation’s schools listed as failures.
The flurry of exemption applications is in response to the upcoming deadline for some of the toughest terms of the Act.
NCLB mandates that all schools achieve test proficiency with 100 percent of their students by 2014, requires a series of sanctions for schools that do not meet that goal, and places restrictions on the use of federal funding.
States now clearly feel that not only is this goal unattainable but is a mistaken criterion to focus on. As the Connecticut Department of Education said,
“Above all, the waiver will enable Connecticut to focus on improving student learning. Under NCLB, schools were measured only based on the percentage of students who score proficient on standardized tests. With the waiver, Connecticut will take a more comprehensive approach to closing the achievement gap and creating academic excellence for all students.”
No Child Left Behind has been up for congressional overhaul since 2007 but Congress has been unable to reach consensus on how to change it.
On Tuesday, a House committee passed a pair of Republican-backed bills that would alter the law by shifting a significant amount of control over schools out of the federal government’s hands. But no Democrats supported the measures, and it appears unlikely that Congress will pass an overhaul of the law in a divided Congress during an election year.
The waivers are designed as a stopgap solution to this problem and have been granted on the condition that states create their own targets for annual achievement.
Nevada plans to replace No Child Left Behind’s “adequate yearly progress” measure with the growth model, which tracks a student’s academic progress over time. The growth model — adopted by 18 states — emphasizes how much a student has improved on tests year over year.
No Child Left Behind was championed by President George W. Bush in 2002 as a long term roadmap to 100% proficiency in reading and math for all students by 2014. Jeffrey Henig, professor of political science and education at Columbia University explains why states were willing to try something new then and what went wrong in the meantime,
“They didn’t imagine that it was going to pinch as hard as it was going to,” he said. “Now people know.”