About two-thirds of the states had been granted waivers from many of the requirements of the so-called “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) legislation as of late October 2012. With an impossible goal of 100 percent proficiency in reading and math by 2014, and Congress at a stalemate regarding how to rewrite the act, the U.S. Department of Education began granting waivers in February 2012 to states that submitted satisfactory plans for preparing and evaluating students. With support from both sides of the aisle for change, but disagreement on how to revise the legislation officially titled the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Obama administration took executive action, with the waivers being called temporary. Arne Duncan, education secretary, is working with Congress to revise the law.
Since NCLB took effect in 2002, the stakes have continued to climb with many schools (some of them previously identified as “Blue Ribbon”), now deemed as “failing” because of some of the requirements. Many critics believe that the relentless focus on preparing for the high-stakes tests and the amount of time spent actually taking them has resulted in a curricula that is not only more narrow but also provides fewer opportunities for critical and creative thinking.
The requirements for obtaining a waiver include a promise to demonstrate how students and schools are improving and a closer linking of student test scores with teacher evaluations. Many educators are opposed to the latter since there are many factors contributing to whether students come to school ready to learn.
“Teachers have been sounding the alarm on NCLB’s test-label-punish approach for more than 10 years,’’ according to National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel in late 2011. “Now there is an opportunity to move forward with real reform, especially for the most disadvantaged students.’’