Last week I was having dinner with a friend who is a teacher in Washington, DC. The topic turned to No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the education reform law that passed in 2002 with bipartisan support.
But NCLB has been criticized by many teachers and administrators who complained of its undesired consequences:
- States merely lowered the educational standards to increase the chances that they wouldn’t be labeled as having failing schools
- Teachers would spend classroom time “teaching to the test” instead of covering subjects comprehensively
- It didn’t accurately measure “success”
My friend told me of one example. A 3rd grade student enters a classroom reading at kindergarten level. It could be because of a learning disability or because English is not his first language or because he’s had ineffective teachers in the past. Whatever the case, the teacher and student work very hard. By the end of the year the student is now reading at 2nd grade level. Most people would call that a success story. But under NCLB the student would still be classified as failing since he’s not reading at 3rd grade level.
Today, the White House announced that it is granting 10 states waivers from NCLB.
Colorado, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Oklahoma and New Jersey
What does that mean? State officials still have to set performance targets and they still have to show publicly how they’re meeting those goals. But the states have more flexibility on how they go about doing that and they no longer have to meet 2014 NCLB goals.
In today’s announcement President Obama said:
“Standards and accountability — those are the right goals. Closing the achievement gap, that’s a good goal. That’s the right goal. We’ve got to stay focused on those goals. But we’ve got to do it in a way that doesn’t force teachers to teach to the test, or encourage schools to lower their standards to avoid being labeled as failures. That doesn’t help anybody. It certainly doesn’t help our children in the classroom.”
The end goal is the same- improving student learning. But states are taking different approaches. Massachusetts wants to cut the number of underperforming students in half over the next six years. New Jersey has proposed reducing the dropout rate with an early warning system. Colorado is launching a website where anyone can look up student progress.
These are the first ten states out of the gate, but not the last. 39 states have either expressed interest or have applied already for a federal waiver.
For more specifics on the changes the states are proposing: