NCLB Option Meets Praise and Caution

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

President Obama is offering to free public schools from many of the requirements of a controversial federal education law. But as states consider whether to take him up on it, they're realizing the offer comes with some costs.

On Friday, Obama said he would give states a pass on much of the 2002 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law ? most notably the requirement that students make large annual gains on math and reading tests. He also would waive the requirement that virtually every student be "proficient" in the two subjects by 2014. Congress is due to reauthorize the law, but progress has stalled.

Critics of the law, including New York University education historian Diane Ravitch, say its steep improvement curve is nearly impossible to meet and time spent on test prep takes away from other subjects and narrows school curricula.

Obama said he would waive the proficiency requirements in exchange for a promise that states adopt several reforms, including higher academic standards, a teacher evaluation system based on student test scores and a promise to intervene in the lowest-performing schools.

National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel praised Obama's offer. "We needed to do this," he said, adding he hopes it'll help generate "common-sense measures" on school improvement from local districts.

Jack Jennings of the Center on Education Policy, a think tank, said the move will please teachers. Even though much of the law's structure would remain in place, he said, "some of the draconian nature of NCLB will be eliminated."

California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson on Friday posted a message on his Facebook page saying the waiver "would appear to cost billions of dollars to fully implement, at a time when California and many other states remain in financial crisis."

Torlakson said he hoped Obama "is prepared to provide the funds necessary to implement these provisions, or provide greater flexibility to California, which already has a strong school accountability system in place."

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