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NCLB Waivers May Be Setting Dangerous Precedents

10 states pay a high price to obtain a waiver from the crushing mandates of NCLB, but is it worth it?

It’s likely that the Obama administrations most recent effort to ease the pressure of No Child Left Behind’s draconian rules is only the first step in pushing the administrations education reform agenda. President Obama has announced that 10 states will receive waivers from the No Child Left Behind requirements of 100% proficiency by all students as of 2014, widely understood to be a ludicrous expectation imposed by George W. Bush’s administration in 2001. However, there are concerns that the price paid by these states to obtain those waivers may have some dangerous and unintended consequences.

Congress has been notoriously unwilling to work with the Obama administration on everything from debt ceiling raise in August, to the extension of the payroll tax holiday (which is once again rearing it’s ugly head). It’s likely that as Obama offers these state waivers from NCLB mandates that it may allow congress to continue to drag its feet on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which has been previously known as No child Left Behind. ESEA makes a number of federal mandates and spending incentives for states to adopt particular educational reforms. The Obama White House and Department of Education has been pushing standardized testing as well as teacher performance evaluations that include student achievement data as a criterion. Both of these provisions were necessary for states to be awarded waivers from NCLB, which were awarded to Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

The other issue at hand is that the administrations reform proposals, such as using student testing data to evaluate teachers, are wildly unpopular among education professionals and teachers unions. By using political levers like NCLB waivers in order to push these reforms through certain states, many in the education field are concerned that this will set dangerous precedents for other states to mandate reforms and compromising local control of school districts. It’s also unclear whether legislatures in Republican controlled states will accept the new provisions, as many of the GOP leadership, particularly in Washington, are rankled over Obama’s attempt to circumvent congress’ authority in distributing waivers. That doesn’t change the fact that ESEA is four years overdue for reauthorization, and as yet not a single legislative proposal has gotten out of committee. However, since the White House announced its intention to provide waivers, two legislative bills, one in the House and one in the Senate, have been introduced to retool aspects of NCLB.