Obama grants 10 states, including Tennessee, No Child Left Behind waivers

Gary B. Gray • Feb 9, 2012 at 9:57 PM

President Barack Obama on Thursday freed Tennessee and nine other states from the strict requirements of the No Child Left Behind education law in exchange for promises to improve the way schools teach and evaluate students.

“It was meant to close gaps, but states like Tennessee petitioned the government for waivers,” said Kathy Hall, Johnson City Board of Education chairwoman. “In general terms, it means we won’t be held to all standards of No Child Left Behind. And, it probably will not affect us financially, because we’re not going to do anything differently. Our standards already were high, and the government granted the waivers to the states that had really gone out of their way to reform.”

The first 10 states to receive the waivers are Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee, the White House said. The only state that applied for the flexibility and did not get it, New Mexico, is working with the administration to get approval.

No Child Left Behind was primarily designed to help the nation’s poor and minority children and was passed a decade ago with widespread bipartisan support. It has been up for renewal since 2007. But competing priorities, disagreements over how much of a federal role there should be in schools and, in the recent Congress, partisan gridlock, have held up a revamping of the law.

Though states may be relieved about the changes, the move also reflects the reality that the United States is not close to the law’s original goal: getting children to grade level in reading and math.

Critics say the 2014 deadline was unrealistic, the law is too rigid and led to teaching to the test, and too many schools feel they are unfairly labeled as “failures.”

Under No Child Left Behind, schools that don’t meet requirements for two years or longer face increasingly tough consequences, including busing children to higher-performing schools, offering tutoring and replacing staff.

In states granted a waiver, students will still be tested annually. But starting this fall, low-performing schools in those states will no longer face the same prescriptive actions spelled out under No Child Left Behind, but instead will face a variety of interventions determined by the individual states. A school’s performance will also probably be labeled differently.

The Associated Press also contributed to this report.

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