Considerable discussion in the education press has taken place regarding waivers—and for good reason. States awarded these waivers will essentially be allowed to rewrite a major portion of NCLB—at least until Congress takes action. Because these waivers are so significant, it’s worth looking at the fundamentals.
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Since 1994, federal law has required states to establish standards and assessments that measure student mastery of those standards, and to identify and assist Title I schools that did not make sufficient progress. In 2001, when the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was passed, these requirements were strengthened. And for the first time, schools and districts were held accountable for ensuring that all students reach proficiency in math and reading by the 2013–2014 school year.
Readers who spend their time outside of the D.C. beltway or don’t live and breathe federal K–12 education seven days a week, may feel a little like a visitor to the United Nations when listening to the discussions heat up over the renewal (also called reauthorization, or rewrite) of No Child Left Behind (which is really the current name of a 1965 law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act). To assist, we have compiled a list of frequently used terms. While not exhaustive, it may help at least delay the headache that comes with squinting endlessly at acronyms.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act established two high-profile programs that have continued, thanks to subsequent funding from Congress. The first of these, Investing in Innovation (i3), awards three types of grants to incubate and test promising innovations in education. While the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires schools to use programs that are supported by research, very few products or programs in education meet this standard.
Judging by testimony provided at the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on November 8, the least controversial component of the recently marked-up Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) rewrite is the requirement for college- and career-ready standards. Nearly all hearing witnesses praised the requirement, which would drive states to adopt more rigorous and challenging standards. Witnesses ranged from scholars to education reformers, to practitioners at the state, district, and school building levels.
In September, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan invited states to apply for waivers from key provisions of NCLB. Duncan provided two deadlines to submit waivers, the first of which was November 14.
In late September, President Obama announced that states would be invited to apply for waivers of the current requirements in No Child Left Behind. However, it was made clear that any flexibility must be in exchange for “serious state-led efforts to close achievement gaps, promote rigorous accountability, and ensure that all students are on track to graduate college- and career-ready.”
Numerous congressional hearings over the past year have featured principals and superintendents bemoaning onerous regulations, many of which have been pinned on No Child Left Behind. In fairness to schools and districts, it’s not always clear whether a regulation originates with the federal, state, or local government—and all play a part.
On October 20, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee marked up the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act. The legislation is meant to update the current iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), known as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which was signed into law in 2001.