BOISE — Idaho will be among the first states to apply for a waiver from the federal government to skirt provisions of the No Child Left Behind education law, according to the state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna.
He was among state school officers who were at the White House today as President Barack Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave states guidance on the 9-year-old federal law. Decrying the state of American education, Obama said states will get unprecedented freedom to waive basic elements of the sweeping Bush-era No Child Left Behind law, calling it an admirable but flawed effort that has hurt students instead of helped them.
Idaho was among a handful of states that vowed earlier this year to ignore the latest No Child Left Behind requirements, saying they set unrealistic benchmarks.
Under the plan Obama outlined, states can ask the Education Department to be exempted from some of the law’s requirements if they meet certain conditions, such as imposing standards to prepare students for college and careers and setting evaluation standards for teachers and principals.
“We’ll absolutely be one of the first states to apply,” Luna said in an interview with The Associated Press.
“I think this is the first step, it’s a symbolic step, but it’s an important first step in turning back the authority and control of running our schools back to the states and away from the federal government,” he said.
A majority of states are expected to apply for waivers, which will be given to qualified states early next year. Luna said he has been advised that states can start applying for the waivers in November and he will work with the state Board of Education on Idaho’s application.
The No Child Left Behind law set a goal of having 100 percent of students proficient in math and reading by 2014, but states were allowed to establish how much schools must improve each year. Many saved the biggest leaps for the final years because they anticipated the law would be changed.
But it hasn’t, and states like Idaho, Montana and South Dakota made plans earlier this year to reject the latest requirements for determining school progress under the law — even if the move toward noncompliance might put them at risk of losing some federal funding.
In Idaho, Luna contends new education changes that were signed into law this year focus on the academic growth of students and not on whether they can pass a test. He argues Idaho can no longer wait for Congress to overhaul the nation’s governing education law to better gauge how kids perform.
Secretary Duncan has also said he wants the emphasis to be more on growth than on test scores.
Despite allowing states to do away with the approaching 2014 deadline, Obama insisted he was not weakening the law but rather helping states set higher standards. He said that the current law was forcing educators to teach to the test, give short shrift to subjects such as history and science, and lower standards as a way of avoiding penalties and stigmas.
The No Child Left Behind law was passed in 2001 with widespread bipartisan support. It sought to hold schools more accountable for student performance and draw better-qualified teachers into classrooms.
But the law has since been widely panned by critics who say it brands schools as failures even as they make progress, discourages high academic standards and encourages educators to teach to the test, as opposed to providing practical classroom learning to students.
No Child Left Behind has been due for a re-write since 2007, and Obama and Duncan had asked that it be overhauled by the beginning of this school year. But a growing ideological divide in Congress has only complicated efforts to do so.
Duncan has said the administration’s plan would not undermine efforts in Congress because the waivers could serve as a bridge until Congress acts.