In issuing waivers to states under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka No Child Left Behind), releasing them from a 2014 deadline for achieving 100 percent proficiency on standardized reading and math exams, President Barack Obama rightly chastised Congress for its failure to bring the law’s decade-old requirements up to date.
Unfortunately, neither the president nor Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has given Congress strong guidance on how to proceed.
In fending off the immediate crisis -- Duncan says more than 80 percent of schools would fail to achieve 100 percent proficiency by 2014 -- the administration risks allowing states off the hook on accountability.
The underlying problem is summed up neatly in the Education Department’s own explanation of the waivers: “In many states, parents are being told that their children are proficient based on a low bar. Many of them are being lied to because their children aren’t really being prepared for college and careers. Under ESEA flexibility, States will set standards based on expectations for success in college and careers.” In other words, the very states that have watered down their standards are being given far greater freedom to set new bars.
Yet it’s vital that we have some sort of barometer of how students and schools are faring. The standardized tests used in the last decade are hardly perfect, but they do provide a relatively accurate picture of the state of American education. (Note: It’s not a pretty one.)