In an appearance with White House domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes during the daily press briefing, Duncan said the law is overdue for a rewrite and the only solution is to grant waivers to school districts that need them.
"No Child Left Behind, as it currently stands, is four years overdue for being rewritten," Duncan said. "It is far too punitive. It is far too prescriptive. It led to a dumbing-down of standards. It led to a narrowing of the curriculum.
"At a time when we have to get better, faster education than we ever have, we can't afford to have the law of the land be one that has so many perverse incentives or disincentives to the kind of progress we want to see."
Barnes noted while Congress has been unable to move forward on revisions, "children and teachers and administrators and school boards out in the states [are] clamoring for some kind of flexibility as they're trying to move to a higher accountability system, as they're trying to put in place college and career-ready standards. ...
"We have to provide them with that kind of relief. We can't do it all through flexibility and through the statutory authority that Arne has, but we can provide enough relief so that we can move forward and our kids can get the kind of education that they need."
Duncan said the administration wants to "put forward a very simple trade-off. ... Where there's a high bar, where folks are really doing the right thing for children, we want to give them a lot more flexibility, frankly get out of their way and let them hit that higher bar."
He said the new flexibility policy was necessary.
"We would have loved to see Congress act; no question that it should have happened," he said. "We hope it happens at some point down the road, but it hasn't, and we can't afford to wait."