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Education Reporter

States Line Up for NCLB Waivers
Twenty-six more states and the District of Columbia are applying for waivers to avoid penalties for failing to meet benchmarks required by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Eleven states have already been granted waivers in exchange for adopting key reforms favored by the Obama administration, including tying teacher evaluations to student performance and taking aggressive steps to improve academic performance for English learners and various at-risk subgroups. The remaining states have until September 6th to apply for waivers.

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Faced with penalties such as busing students to better-performing schools, offering tutoring, and replacing staff, many states jumped at President Obama's promise to offer them flexibility in exchange for high performance standards. Critics say the administration has simply substituted a long list of their own preferred prescriptive measures for those of NCLB.

Shortly after the first ten states were granted waivers, Rick Hess, an education policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, declared that "one only had to read Duncan's complicated, jargon-laden, finger-wagging letters to the ten approved states to see just how prescriptive the process is . . . Just for starters, it would appear that the waiver 'winners' just promised to adopt narrow, prescriptive teacher evaluation and school improvement policies that apply to charter schools as well as district schools."

Hess has also been among those who accused Education Secretary Arne Duncan of flouting the Constitution by imposing "wholly new requirements that exist nowhere in federal law" on states seeking NCLB waivers. So far, most states have meekly accepted this act of executive overreach, but others such as New Hampshire and Maine have said they need more time to determine whether the waiver requirements make sense for their rural states.

California is a notable exception. The state department of education has recommended state officials seek relief outside of the waiver process, and without the strings they regard as unrealistic and burdensome. California has already agreed to adopt the Common Core Standards and joined a consortium of states creating tests based on those standards. But officials believe overhauling the state's accountability system at the same time new standards and tests are in the works is too costly and makes no sense, according to state education department spokesman Paul Hefner.

Duncan has warned that he will enforce NCLB penalties on states that do not obtain and comply with the terms of his department's waivers. (EdWeek.org, 2-10-12 and 2-29-12)

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