WASHINGTON — With a growing number of states rebelling against the No Child Left Behind law and stalled efforts in Congress to reform it, the Obama administration says it will grant waivers to liberate states from what it considers a dysfunctional law.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he is taking action because of "universal clamoring" from officials in nearly every state, who say they cannot meet the unrealistic requirements of the nine-year-old federal education law.
"The states are desperately asking for us to respond," Duncan said.
Duncan and Melody Barnes, President Barack Obama's domestic policy adviser, were short on specifics but said they would release details in September, when they will begin weighing applications from any state that wants to be exempted from No Child Left Behind.
Administration officials said they will grant waivers to states that adopt standards designed to prepare high school graduates for college and careers, use a "flexible and targeted" accountability system for educators based on student growth, and make "robust use of data," among other things.
Any state can apply for a waiver, and its application will be reviewed by a panel of peers. The final decision falls to Duncan, who said he expects that successful states will receive waivers in the coming school year.
Most states are concerned about the law's sharply escalating demands, culminating in the goal that 100 percent of students must be proficient in reading and math by 2014 or their schools will face serious sanctions, including the loss of federal aid.
In the past six months, a handful of states have asked for waivers and a few have simply declared that they will not meet their annual targets under the law.
Educators say that the pressure of trying to reach 100 percent proficiency has created an unhealthy focus on standardized tests, with continual drilling in the classroom and a narrowing of curriculum that excludes anything beyond math and reading.
Despite agreement among Republicans and Democrats in Congress that the 2002 law is flawed, lawmakers have made little progress toward revamping it. Duncan has tried for two years to prod Congress to act.