The Obama Administration announced Friday more details on how it will grant states waivers from parts of the No Child Left Behind education law, a move that could change how Minnesota rates teachers and students.
The 10-year old law passed under President George W. Bush would require all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014, a goal many education officials say is laudable but unrealistic. In announcing details on how states could seek waivers from the East Room of the White House Friday, President Barack Obama said the law needed refinements.
"Experience has taught us that in its implementation, No Child Left Behind had some serious flaws that are hurting our children instead of helping them," the president said.
In particular, some of the law's provisions would lead to many of the nation's schools being declared as failing by 2014 — which would result in financial penalties for those schools.
Minnesota will have to resubmit its application for a waiver from the federal law. If approved, federal officials will suspend a measurement called 'adequate yearly progress' which determines if students meet federal standards for improvement.
By freezing the measure, the waiver would ensure that Minnesota's list of schools that don't meet the standard won't grow any larger. It will also allow the state to focus on schools already on the list that have proven to be the most chronically under-performing, Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said.
Cassellius, who was in Washington for the president's announcement and to meet with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, said the waiver also would also free schools on the list from spending money on federally mandated services, including tutoring, that haven't necessarily proven to boost achievement.
"We want to be able to measure growth, we want fair and more accurate measurements for our children that teachers can use for their instructions," said Cassellius, who submitted Minnesota's original application for a waiver last month. "We want to support those schools that have multiple years of data so that they can turn around and do better."
The Obama administration also will grant waivers to states that have implemented their own reforms, including establishing standards that make sure schools prepare students for colleges and careers and setting evaluation standards for teachers and principals. Cassellius said Minnesota has done both.
KLINE WANTS MORE CHANGES
The No Child Left Behind Law has long been criticized by Republicans and Democrats.
Obama said he's unhappy with the pace of change on Capitol Hill, where Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline of Minnesota is leading the rewrite effort in the House.
"I've urged Congress, for a while now, 'let's get a bipartisan effort; let's fix this,'" Obama said. "Congress hasn't been able to do it. So I will."
Kline, chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, said he supports many of the Obama administration's education policy goals.
"I think there ought to be more flexibility," he said. "The states ought to be given more opportunity to develop their standards and assessments and accountability standards, there ought to be some performance evaluation for teachers."
But Kline said the decision to issue waivers to the law does an end run around Congress.
"The law needs to be fixed and it needs to be fixed in Congress and not by executive action," he said.
As to the charge that Congress has acted too slowly, Kline said Democrats had two years to make changes when they controlled all three branches of government. Congress passed no changes to No Child Left Behind while Democrats held the majority in both houses.
Since the beginning of the year, Kline's committee has been working on a series of smaller bills to update the law.
The first of those, on charter schools, easily passed the House last week with bipartisan support.
Kline said his committee will continue to work at what he calls a "measured" pace.
"The legislative process is sometimes cumbersome and it's a little bit messy and politics get involved," he said. "There's no question that a president, exercising authority I don't believe he really has, can do things faster."
But until Kline can get his bills through the House and the Democratic-controlled Senate, the only option for states unhappy with the current law is to take these waivers being offered to them.