No Child Left Behind Waivers

  • In September 2011, the U. S. Department of Education announced that it would bypass Congress and allow states to apply for waivers from certain No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements.
  • NCLB itself contains provisions governing the granting of waivers from its requirements. USDOE ignored these statutory provisions and created its own.
  • Although the Administration has touted the waivers as releasing schools from onerous provisions of NCLB, the only thing they really accomplish is to soften the consequences of failure to meet “adequate yearly progress.” And although this will free up certain federal funds that otherwise would have to be spent according to the dictates of NCLB, the amount per pupil is minimal.
  • In exchange for this minimally increased flexibility, states must agree to numerous other federally dictated requirements.
  • The NCLB waiver scheme is another means of persuading states to adopt the Common Core Standards. To be awarded a waiver, a state must agree to adopt either Common Core, or another set of federally approved standards. As a practical matter, most states seeking waivers have agreed to settle for Common Core.
  • A supplicant state must also implement a statewide teacher-evaluation system that will “inform” personnel decisions (it’s unclear what “inform” means). This evaluation system will be run out of the state’s department of education, which will be a radical change from the localized control present in many states.
  • Another requirement is that a supplicant state design specific systems for ensuring student progress, as defined by USDOE.
  • Many senators, such as Rubio (R-FL) and Alexander (R-TN), criticized this waiver scheme as another illegal means to impose USDOE’s pet projects on the states.
  • States that thought they were escaping the heavy hand of USDOE by obtaining a waiver have been disappointed. The level of micromanagement in the USDOE letters to the “successful” states is revealing. In light of this new web of federal requirements, Vermont dropped its bid for a waiver. “It has become clear,” said a Vermont Department of Education official, “that the U.S. Education Department is interested in simply replacing one punitive, prescriptive model with another.” California declined to seek a waiver in the first place because, as state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said, “We object to switching out one set of onerous standards, No Child Left Behind, for another set of burdensome standards.”

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