By By DONNA GORDON BLANKINSHIP
SEATTLE (AP) â€” Although more than half the states are now exempt from the toughest requirements of the federal “No Child Left Behind” education law, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Friday his goal remains to help Congress fix the law, not to sidestep the stalled overhaul effort.
The Obama administration’s announcement Friday that Washington and Wisconsin have been granted waivers from the education law brought to 26 the number of states now free from many of its requirements.
Allowing waivers has brought a level of creativity to education reform that was unexpected when Duncan and President Barack Obama opened the waiver process nearly a year ago.
Congress could come up with a great plan for reauthorizing the federal law by adopting the best ideas from the states’ waiver applications, Duncan said at a news conference Friday.
Lawmakers remain at a stalemate over the long overdue rewrite of the widely criticized law, which was a signature accomplishment of the George W. Bush administration. Obama sent Congress an overhaul proposal two years ago.
Making the law formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act irrelevant is not the Obama administration’s goal, Duncan said.
“Our Plan A is to reauthorize. We stand ready to reauthorization if it’s on Monday or next week or six months from now,” he said.
The Education Department began granting waivers in February in exchange for promises from states to improve how they prepare and evaluate students and their teachers. The executive action by Obama is part of an ongoing effort to act on his own when Congress is rebuffing him.
“A strong, bipartisan reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act remains the best path forward in education reform, but as 26 states have now demonstrated, our kids can’t wait any longer for Congress to act,” Duncan said in a statement released Friday.
The 10-year-old law requires all students to achieve proficient math and reading scores by 2014, a goal that many educators say is impossible.
Members of both parties say No Child Left Behind is broken, but they have been unable to agree on how to fix it. While the law has been praised for focusing on the performance of minorities, low-income students, English language learners and special education students, it has also labeled thousands of schools as “failing” because of the stringent ways it measures success.
Critics also say the law has had the unintended effect of encouraging schools to focus too much on testing, leading them to narrow their curricula.
Washington state schools chief Randy Dorn said the waiver will lift the requirement that all students pass the state reading and math tests by 2014. It will also give Washington school districts more flexibility about how they spend some federal dollars.
In return, Washington will need to show improvement in test scores for subgroups of students who have historically had lower scores than average, such as those who qualify for free- or reduced-price meals.
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