By John Hechinger
BOSTON - President Barack Obama freed eight states, including Rhode Island, from provisions of the No Child Left Behind education-testing law after they pledged to turn around low-performing schools and tie teacher evaluations to student achievement.
Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina and Ohio also received waivers from the law, enacted under former President George W. Bush.
In all, 19 states have now have been granted permission to sidestep the statute in exchange for agreeing to elements of the Obama administration’s education agenda.
Obama has pledged to change the 10-year-old No Child Left Behind Law, saying its focus on standardized-testing dumbs down teaching, narrows school curriculums and labels even high- achieving schools as failing.
Republicans -- including John Kline, chairman of the House education committee -- have said Congress should change the law, rather than the administration, through executive orders.
“States must show they are protecting children in order to get flexibility,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. “These states met that bar.”
The states obtaining waivers would be exempt from the requirement that all students pass achievement tests by 2014 -- and make progress toward that goal each year -- or risk losing federal funding. Under No Child Left Behind, each state establishes its own proficiency tests and determines what constitutes passing.
Kline, who represents Minnesota, said he has “significant concerns” about waivers that leave states “subject to the changing whims of the Secretary of Education.” House Republicans are advancing two pieces of legislation to improve the law, he said.
“This plan does not constitute the long-term reform families, schools, and students need,” Kline said in a statement. “It’s a temporary Band-Aid to a problem that must be resolved through legislation.”
In a conference call with reporters, Duncan said he still prefers that Congress reach a bipartisan agreement to rewrite the law -- something it has been unable to do for five years.
“Children cannot wait any longer,” Duncan said. “Teachers can’t wait, and American can’t wait, so we’re moving forward.”
Almost half of U.S. public schools are considered failing under the No Child Left Behind law, according to a report in December by the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based nonpartisan research group. The administration has cited the failure rate as a reason to offer states and local school authorities more flexibility.