President Barack Obama announced yesterday Tennessee is one of 10 states to be granted a waiver on the stringent and sweeping requirements of the No Child Left Behind legislation put into effect in 2002 under former president George W. Bush.
The waiver requires the 10 states to produce their own legislation and methods to improve education and evaluate students.
Obama said he was acting because Congress had failed to update the law despite widespread agreement it needs to be fixed.
“If we’re serious about helping our children reach their potential, the best ideas aren’t going to come from Washington alone,” Obama said. “Our job is to harness those ideas, and to hold states and schools accountable for making them work.”
A total of 28 other states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have signaled they, too, plan to seek waivers — a sign of just how vast the law’s burdens have become as the big deadline nears. No Child Left Behind requires all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014.
The other nine states receiving the waiver are Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and Oklahoma. According to an AP report the only state to apply for a waiver and not have it granted is New Mexico, which is currently working with the administration to get approval.
Director of Schools Dr. Jerry Hale said the measure won’t impact Warren County much as none of our schools were facing No Child Left Behind sanctions.
Gov. Bill Haslam submitted a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in July asking for a four-year waiver on certain provisions of NCLB. Haslam noted the new nationally based standards would result in the majority of Tennessee schools being under sanction.
This was borne out by the fact over 800 Tennessee schools failed to achieve adequate yearly progress (AYP) under federal standards, but even though designated as “failing” still managed to improve their test scores over the previous year. Under the waiver, these schools will have any sanctions resulting from AYP performance removed.
Obama has called Bush’s highly touted legislation an admirable, but flawed, effort that hindered students rather than helping them. One criteria of NCLB that has come under particular scorn is the requirement that 100 percent of students be proficient in reading and math by 2014, a standard that is unrealistic. Under the waiver this requirement has also been removed.
Hale, who is retiring this year, says he has been dealing with NCLB for the last 10 years and has somewhat of a love-hate relationship with the standards and methods set out in the program.
“I think the intent was good,” Hale said. “And I think some of the things in it were good. But as some of the articles (about the waiver) have said, I think it was flawed. I think the original concept was flawed because it was based on a 100 percent or nothing type standard, and that’s not realistic, plus you had all the punitive aspects of it.”
Hale pointed out the state also had an accountability system in place, and in some cases the two different systems, federal and state, came into conflict, necessitating a change in state statutes.
“We got a double-edged sword,” Hale said. “We got it from Washington and then the state came right behind and changed a lot of laws in Nashville so the Tennessee system would fall in line with No Child Left Behind.
“When they changed the standards and changed the benchmarks it gave what I think is a false impression that we’d fallen back, when really we were making progress, they had just changed the standards,” Hale said. “So it didn’t give an accurate representation of what was actually happening.”
School Board chairman Scott Holmes said he hasn’t had enough time to evaluate how the waiver will affect the local school system, but has felt all along that NCLB’s emphasis on test results has engendered fundamental changes in the way teachers teach, and not necessarily for the better.
“We need to teach to educate,” Holmes said. “And not teach for a test. They’ve kind of molded education into teaching to a test. It takes away the ability to learn beyond the test. I understand you must measure, and you should measure progress, but a measurement and a way of teaching are two different things. At some point they’ve changed the way we teach. At that point you have legislation driving education methods and that’s not a good thing.”
Incoming director of schools Bobby Cox feels the waiver will provide some welcome flexibility in meeting standards. Cox says he believes the state has come up with more realistic benchmarks under Obama’s Race to the Top program.
In addition, while NCLB was basically an unfunded mandate, Race to the Top provided some significant, and much-needed, funding geared to help achieve the new standards. Tennessee received $501 million in Race to the Top funds and of that, Warren County received $360,000.
“I think we’re in a kind of special time,” Cox said. “It’s an exciting time in education with this transition. We’re looking at moving the common core standards. We’re looking at a new system of evaluation with those common core standards. We’ve got new benchmarks that are more attainable, district by district, rather than as a whole.”
Cox says Warren County is ready to move forward to meet any new benchmarks set out by the state.
“We’re pretty well positioned for Race to the Top and the requirements we’re going to be asked to accomplish over the next couple of years,” Cox said.
Like Hale, Cox feels NCLB had its good points, but disagreed with some of the methods used in its implementation.
“It made us look at some things, like gaps in meeting benchmarks and things of that type, more intently than we had in the past,” Cox said. “But it also had some really bad things, standards that were unrealistic and unattainable. Where I think Race to the Top differs is the benchmarks that are set, are set by the local districts on how fast you will move toward that end benchmark over four years.”
Cox says he feels NCLB was actually at cross purposes with its sanctions.
“What happened with No Child Left Behind was it penalized you if you didn’t perform,” Cox said. “It was kind of counterproductive. If you don’t perform and then you get money taken away because you didn’t perform, it becomes even harder for you to meet the benchmark you need to reach.”
Though he is pleased Tennessee received the waiver, Cox says education shouldn’t be a political issue.
“In education it’s a bipartisan thing,” Cox said. “It’s shouldn’t be about Obama’s a Democrat and this is his plan, and Bush is a Republican and we’re getting rid of his plan. It’s what’s best for the kids. That’s what we want it to be, what’s best for our students.”