September 22nd, 2011
06:25 PM ET
Ten years after the Bush administration’s landmark attempt to revamp the nation's education system with the No Child Left Behind law, President Obama is poised to allow states to opt out of the heavily criticized guidelines.
Friday, President Obama will announce that his administration will begin reviewing states' applications to waive the No Child Left Behind requirements in return for tangible commitments to close achievement gaps.
The law, which passed with broad bipartisan support in 2001, required public schools to meet targets aimed at making all students proficient in reading and math by 2014 or face stiff penalties. As that deadline looms, the Department of Education has predicted up to 82% of the nation's schools could miss the target and face those penalties including the possibility of losing federal education dollars.
"Today the law is hurting children by denying the children most at risk the resources they really need," a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call Thursday.
The administration officials did not want to be identified by name as the call was considered to be background information in advance of the president's announcement Friday.The new, flexible guidelines the president plans to announce will require that states show they are transitioning to a program focused on college and career-ready standards. At the same time the states will still be allowed to continue to set their own benchmarks.
One change will require that states put into place standards of accountability that don't treat all schools the same. For instance, a senior administration official said "[A] state should recognize and reward the highest achieving schools that serve low income students and those that show the greatest student progress."
And finally, schools will have to implement teacher and principal accountability. States and districts will have to set basic guidelines to evaluate a teacher's performance based on a number of factors, not simply student performance.
"The purpose is not to give states and districts a reprieve from accountability, but rather to unleash energy to improve our schools at the local level,” President Obama said in a statement released by the White House.
One of the major criticisms of the current No Child Left Behind guidelines is that it encouraged schools to lower standards rather than improve. The new guidelines "should reduce the pressure to teach the test and the narrowing of the curriculum," one administration official said.
Six months ago, the administration sent to Congress its plan to revamp No Child Left Behind but so far legislation has stalled. The administration states that it hasn’t made these changes alone – it has reached out and received input from 45 states that helped develop the new guidelines to opt out of No Child Left Behind standards. In addition senior administration officials told reporters that 44 states and the District of Columbia are working to adopt a common set of state developed college and career-ready standards.
Some critics fear the new guidelines will give the federal government an even larger role in states' education decisions. But Obama administration officials deny the accusation maintaining the new guidelines will actually give states more flexibility including how to spend 20% of their Title I money, which funds low-income education and can account for as much as one billion dollars nationwide. Currently No Child Left Behind requires states spend that portion of federal education dollars on choice in tutoring.
The administration says many states and school districts are already moving toward the new guidelines. States can file a request for a waiver by mid November and the waivers could be granted in early 2012.