The Obama administration is taking the next step toward creating a system that would offer waivers to states seeking relief from testing mandates in the No Child Left Behind law, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and White House Domestic Policy Council Adviser Melody Barnes announced on Monday.
President Obama had called on lawmakers to rewrite the law by the start of the new school year, and Duncan warned in mid-June that his office was beginning to prepare regulations to offer waivers if Congress did not take action. With the start of the school year just weeks away and Congress in recess, the department will take the next step toward giving states an opt-out tool. More details are expected in early to mid-September, Duncan told reporters.
It may go further than just offering the waiver. Barnes told reporters in a Monday press briefing that the administration will be asking all 50 states to apply so they will have more flexibility to pursue reforms.
“No Child Left Behind, as it currently stands, is four years overdue for being rewritten," Duncan said of the administration’s decision. "It is far too punitive, it is far too prescriptive; [it] led to a dumbing down of standards—led to a narrowing of the curriculum. At a time when we have to get better, faster education than we ever have, we can't afford to have the law of the land be one that has so many perverse incentives—or disincentives—to the kind of progress we want to see."
Part of the exemption process will likely require states to undertake reforms championed under Obama’s Race to the Top initiatives. In the long run, the administration has said it would like to see NCLB contain more college- and career-ready standards, a heavier reliance on data, and a flexible, targeted system for measuring student growth.
Duncan said he is still hoping to pursue a legislative fix to the law. “We would love to see Congress act,” Duncan said on Monday. “We hope it happens some point down the road, but it hasn't, and we can't afford to wait.”
It is unclear how successful any attempts to reform the law through Congress might be. The House and Senate education committees have discussed an overhaul to the law for years, but they since have stopped. Even if lawmakers showed progress on plans to update No Child Left Behind—which passed on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis—the bill could prove politically contentious if it touches sensitive sacred cows like vouchers, charter schools, or merit pay for teachers.