Education panel head rips No Child Left Behind waivers

Feb. 10, 2012 at 11:17 AM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 10 (UPI) -- The U.S. House Education Committee chairman accused the Obama administration of forcing its education policies on states through No Child Left Behind waivers.

The administration released 10 states from requirements of the no-child law, responding to complaints from teachers and school administrators that it was outdated and punitive.

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., who heads the committee, said President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan opted to grant waivers to the states instead of working with Congress to change the law, the signature education measure for former President George W. Bush, The Washington Post reported.

"Rather than work with us to get it changed, [Duncan] and the president decided to issue waivers in exchange for states adopting policies that he wants them to have," Kline said Thursday at the American Enterprise Institute. "This notion that Congress is sort of an impediment to be bypassed I find very, very troubling in many, many ways."

Despite Kline's misgivings, several Republican governors hailed Thursday's announcement.

"This is not about Democrats or Republicans," said Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, which received a waiver. "It's about pursuing an agenda in the best interest of our children whose educational needs are not being met and those who are getting a decent education but deserve a great one."

Also receiving waivers were Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Tennessee. The administration said it would work with New Mexico, the 11th state that sought, but didn't receive, a waiver in the first round. Another 28 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico indicated they intend to apply for a second round of waivers.

No Child Left Behind requires all students to be grade-level proficient in reading and math by 2014 or face punitive consequences.

The states receiving the waivers 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, officials say.

Obama announced the waiver plan -- which doesn't require congressional action -- in September as part of his "we can't wait" series of executive orders. Efforts to revamp the education law had stalled in Congress despite bipartisan agreement that the law needed to be revised.

"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."

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