WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 (UPI) -- Ten states got waivers from some No Child Left Behind education law requirements, which President Obama said gives them freedom coupled with accountability.
Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee no longer will have to meet 2014 targets set by the law, Obama and other White House officials said Thursday.
No Child Left Behind, the centerpiece of President George W. Bush's education agenda, requires all students to be grade-level proficient in reading and math by 2014. Critics maintain the goal is unrealistic, produces too much teach-to-the-test instruction and means too many schools are punished as failures.
The states receiving the waivers will get a break on the mandate in exchange for providing detailed plans for preparing their students for college and careers, setting new targets for improving student achievement, rewarding high-performing schools and getting help to the under-performers.
Obama announced the NCLB waiver plan -- which doesn't require congressional action -- in September as part of his "we can't wait" series of executive orders.
"I said [in September] the goals of No Child Left Behind were the right ones. Standards and accountability -- those are the right goals. Closing the achievement gap, that's a good goal. That's the right goal. We've got to stay focused on those goals," Obama said Thursday. "But we've got to do it in a way that doesn't force teachers to teach to the test, or encourage schools to lower their standards to avoid being labeled as failures. That doesn't help anybody. It certainly doesn't help our children in the classroom."
All states had the chance to seek the waivers, Obama said, and 39 states expressed interest.
Besides the 10 that received waivers, the White House said the administration would work closely with New Mexico, the 11th state that requested flexibility in the first round. Twenty-eight other states, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, indicated their intent to seek waivers.
"We've said, if you're willing to set higher, more honest standards than the ones that were set by No Child Left Behind, then we're going to give you the flexibility to meet those standards," Obama said. "We want high standards, and we'll give you flexibility in return. We combine greater freedom with greater accountability."
Each state set higher benchmarks for student achievement, developed ways to "evaluate and support teachers fairly" beyond test scores and will focus on low-income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities," Obama said.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the current law drives down standards, weakens accountability, helps narrow the curriculum and labels too many schools as failing. It also mandates remedies at the federal level rather than allowing local educators to make spending decisions, he said.
"Rather than dictating educational decisions from Washington, we want state and local educators to decide how to best meet the individual needs of students," Duncan said.
The plans developed at the local level represent "good news for our kids," Obama said. "It's good news for our country."
"[If] we're serious about helping our children reach their full potential, the best ideas aren't going to just come from here in Washington," Obama said. "They're going to come from cities and towns from all across America. They're going to come from teachers and principals and parents. They're going to come from you who have a sense of what works and what doesn't.
"Let's make this happen," he said.