How Obama’s No Child Left Behind Waivers Can Push Education Reform Forward

Our guest blogger is Jeremy Ayers, senior education policy analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Today President Obama announced that the Department of Education will relieve states from some problematic requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA. States can apply to waive certain parts of the law that are impractical or ineffective — such as ensuring all students are proficient in math and reading by 2014 — only if they submit a rigorous and comprehensive plan of reforms. Such a move could provide much needed flexibility while maintaining positive pressure on states to improve their education systems.

Ranking member on the House Workforce and Education Committee Rep. George Miller (D-CA) has said he supports the plan:

“A full, comprehensive reauthorization is everybody’s first choice and something I hope to continue working toward,” Miller said. “But in the absence of action by Republicans in Congress, President Obama is outlining a path to success for our country and our economy with these waivers.

The current version of ESEA, known as No Child Left Behind, has glaring problems that need immediate fixing. The law identifies schools as “in need of improvement” whether they missed achievement targets by a little or a lot. The law prescribes interventions for those schools, but they are not working as well as they could. Congress needs to reauthorize ESEA to solve such problems permanently. But lawmakers have not been able to come to agreement, and the law has been operating on auto-pilot since 2007 when it was scheduled to be revised.

By creating a process that allows states to apply for waivers, the federal government is helping schools states, districts, and schools. The waiver process is an opportunity to relieve states of unnecessary barriers to achieving the basic goals of ESEA — improving academic results for all students. This move to offer waivers could provide much needed flexibility in the interim while Congress musters up the will to reauthorize the law, and is a step in the right direction.