North Carolina wants waiver from No Child Left Behind

North Carolina is in the process of seeking a waiver from key provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law, which has been criticized for too much emphasis on high-stakes standardized tests.

President Barack Obama announced last month he would relieve states from the 2002 law as long as those states present plans to close achievement gaps and hold schools accountable for graduating students who are prepared for college and careers, according to the News and Observer.

President Obama also said now was the time to act because the current Congress has not reviewed the Bush education law, which should have been reviewed and rewritten four years ago. He also noted that while the notions of the law were commendable, it created a lot of unintended negative consequences.

“The intent of NCLB was to improve the performance of schools nationwide. Many believe the NCLB scoring/rating system is not sufficiently robust and thus does not accurately portray the performance of many schools in North Carolina,” said Dr. Perry Schoon, Dean of the WCU College of Education and Allied Professions. “There are examples where if one subgroup within a school misses the target, then the entire school’s performance is downgraded. This type of inaccurate portrayal can lead to sanctions against schools that in many cases have high levels of poverty.”

A letter was sent by North Carolina education officials to U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan in August requesting a waiver of the current No Child Left Behind law. In the letter, State Superintendent June Atkinson wrote North Carolina needs “greater flexibility for meeting the goal of improving schools within an accountability system that is both rigorous and fair,” according to the News and Observer.

North Carolina officials want to focus on schools who achieved the lowest scores, those where less than 60 percent of students passed exams. North Carolina has already taken steps to improve education like adopting a new “common core” standard curriculum and including student performance as an influence in teacher and principal evaluations. The state also won a $400 million “Race to the Top” education grant from the federal government last year.

“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. Teachers too often are being forced to teach to the test. Subjects like history and science have been squeezed out,” said President Obama in a press release.

Republicans are criticizing Obama’s statements by saying it is a bad precedent for the Obama administration and an insult to the establishment of the No Child Left Behind law that was put in place by Congress.

While it is currently unclear how an approved waiver will impact federal funds to schools locally, the potential flexibility granted could go a long ways toward states meeting the original intent of NCLB, which is to improve the performance of schools, state education officials said.

North Carolina public schools improved their performance in 2009-10 with approximately 88 percent of schools meeting their academic growth goals, and fewer schools classified as low performing, according to the ABCs of Public Education accountability report approved by the State Board of Education.