Obama and Secretary of Education

On Sept. 23, President Obama announced his plan to offer waivers for No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements to schools that fail to meet the 2014 deadline for 100 percent proficiency in math and reading.

Most states are expected to apply for the waivers. California, Michigan and Tennessee have already applied.

According to the Wall Street Journal, 80 percent of K-12 schools would be categorized as failing under the current requirements. When a school is deemed failing, under the current law, the state must step in and make changes. If 80 percent of schools would be failing in 2014, then the states would be required to take extraordinary steps to reform the education system.

NCLB has changed the way students are educated. Since students are required to take annual standardized tests to measure school performance, many educators focus on teaching to standardized tests so that their school will not be deemed failing.

States have also decreased the level of difficulty in their curriculum, so they will not have to dismiss school staff, convert the school to a charter school or close the institution altogether. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “No Child Left Behind is fundamentally broken.”

“Our administration will provide flexibility from the law in exchange for a real commitment to undertake change,” President Obama said on Sept. 23.

NCLB focuses on accountability; the Obama administration wants to raise the bar on education overall, but allow states more room to self-evaluate under the new system.

“If we are serious about building an economy that lasts, an economy in which hard work pays off, with an opportunity for solid middle-class jobs, we have to get serious about education” said Obama. “Teachers too often have been forced to teach to the test. States have perversely lowered their standards in a race to the bottom.”

Obama explained that the change is meant to increase standards for education by allowing the states breathing room to achieve them. Instead of focusing on technical standards for NCLB, the schools will now focus on holistic performance of students.

Under the new plan, only the bottom five percent of schools will face similar circumstances to those of failing schools under NCLB. Principals and teachers’ performance will be measured through trends in standardized test scores over time. Schools will also be adopting a common curriculum. According to Time magazine, 44 states have already adopted the curriculum.

The plan is controversial because it is an executive order and not a repeal of NCLB. The Obama administration had been waiting for legislation to pass regarding NCLB, but no bills were ever passed. Members of Congress are saying the executive order circumvents their authority.

According to The New York Times, the new law gives the secretary of education the power to some of its provisions but doesn’t give him power to force schools to adopt an educational agenda.

“I simply cannot support a process that grants the secretary of education sweeping authority to handpick winners and losers,” chairman of the House of Education, John Kline said.

 

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