Friday, February 10, 2012

Obama Administration Grants State Waivers to No Child Left Behind

Yesterday, President Obama announced that 10 states have received waivers to No Child Left Behind (NCLB,) which will remove the requirement that all students will perform at or above proficient in reading and math by 2014. Currently, the nation stands at 32% proficiency according to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress. With the situation getting increasingly desperate and budget cuts and teacher turnover at an all-time high, there is little chance the country will improve this statistic in two short years. The Center for Educational Policy reports that this year, nearly half of all schools failed to meet standards required by law.

These waivers come as a welcome reprieve for overburdened and underfunded schools.

States receiving the waiver are Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee. New Mexico was denied a waiver, but is currently working with administration to improve their proposal. 28 additional states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have stated their intent to file for this waiver. Only one state has openly announced their intent not to apply: Montana. (See image for more details.)

Waivers were granted to states whose proposals showed a solid plan to prepare their students for college and careers, set new goals for improving proficiency, reduce achievement gaps and focus support on schools that are struggling. These changes to federal policy mean that there will be more room for innovative reform efforts, the arts, and programs that foster critical thinking and a well-rounded education. Education reform is no longer a “one size fits all” policy.

President Obama’s action to create a more flexible education improvement plan came unilaterally and without the approval of Congress, whose own efforts to reform NCLB have been slow due to bipartisan disagreements. In his announcement, Obama said “if we’re serious about helping our children reach their potential, the best ideas aren’t going to come from Washington alone. Our job is to harness those ideas, and to hold states and schools accountable for making them work.”

The waivers will allow states to implement more flexible programming and reduce the pressure to perform well on standardized tests. Other metrics of success can be used in evaluating student performance, and teachers will be able to teach outside of the test once more. Schools will no longer be held accountable for a lack of adequate yearly progress (AYP,) instead finding more meaningful ways to measure growth and progress.

One of the more positive outcomes of NCLB was the mandate that all schools must test students grades 3-8 and track their performance based on certain subgroups, including students with learning disabilities, minority students, and ELL/ESL students. Under the waiver, 9 states will be able to create a “super subgroup,” putting all of these students in one less-achieving group. Many groups are concerned that this may reduce attention to the individual needs of the more specific subgroups.

Whatever the negative side effects of these waivers, there is a definite reason to celebrate. By September, waivered states will no longer be required to undergo the painful and unjust punishments for under-performance NCLB required. Many schools supported by Reader to Reader have reported the negative effects of having to fire half their staff, firing their principals no matter how wonderful they were, or even having to shut down their school. One school in New Mexico, whose students had responded incredibly to our book donations and mentoring programs, had to cut back their participation in our programs because the restrictions placed on them under NCLB left them no room for creative programming. Reader to Reader anticipates an increase in free-reading programs that will improve the nation’s proficiency in reading, and create more life-long learners.

For information about your state’s testing scores, please visit You can also learn about state and federal scores for individual schools or districts by visiting

(Stay tuned for our next article: 8th grade reading scores and the Mason-Dixon Line.)

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