2011 a Busy Year for NCLB, Paves Way for 2012 Changes

No Child Left Behind is long overdue for a rewrite and reauthorization. And while education experts agree final reform needs to come from Congress, 2011 saw some considerable action coming from Washington, writes Mallie Jane Kim at US News.

President Obama, along with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, has outlined a waiver program for states wanting to get out of key provisions outlined in NCLB, such as yearly progress goals and the requirement that all students test at grade level in math and reading by 2014. These reforms include college- and career-ready standards, an accountability process that rewards schools that show progress and support teachers and administrators.

Some saw these waivers as an avoidance of congressional action. Republicans called it an end-run around the legislative branch.

Michael Petrilli, executive vice president at the Fordham Institute, believes that these waivers are legally suspect, but so far, eleven states have already applied — with many more expressing an interest.

“I don’t think you’ll find anyone in the country who thinks that adequate yearly progress as designed 10 years ago is the best way to figure out if a school is failing or not.”

Education lobbyist Ellin Nolan is worried that the waivers will cause an administrative nightmare.

“It’s a huge job for the department to manage all these waivers, which are really a hodgepodge of accountability plans in all the states.

“Plus the oversight of [No Child Left Behind] for those states that don’t choose to do waivers.

“It’s going to be quite a mess.”

Many believed the goal of the waivers was to inspire legislative reforms, but it seems to have done the otherwise.

Petrilli believes the waiver process “seems to have put that process totally on ice—it took the wind out of its sails.”

“The administration now seems happier with its waiver process than it is with the kind of law that would come out of this [Republican-led] Congress.”

Senator Tom Harkin, the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman, earlier in the year proposed a rare bipartisan bill to replace the entire No Child Left Behind law and reauthorize ESEA.

Critics saw the move as too much of a departure from accountability, fearing it may undermine the progress made under No Child Left Behind in closing achievement gaps between high- and low-income students and schools, writes Kim.