Secretary Duncan recently announced that the U.S. Department of Education will consider granting waivers to states for certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). While the details of the Secretary’s waiver requirements have not yet been revealed, the decision to provide more flexibility to states is a critical step toward improving this country’s public education system. Ultimately, an improved federal law needs to be written by Congress.
The United States is home to some of the best public schools in the world and we have others in dire need of improvement. But this year, under NCLB, more than 80 percent of schools are expected to be labeled as failing based on student performance on reading and math tests.
Many of these “failing” schools have successfully increased student performance on state and national tests, increased graduation rates, and sent more students to college than ever before. Schools that are actually failing to meet the needs of students are indistinguishable from those that are making progress, and therefore miss out on the interventions they need to improve.
So, what needs to change in order for us to keep our promise of providing a high quality education to all students?
We need new ways to measure real achievement and not simply compare schools and districts. We need a federal law that expects and enables us to provide ailing schools with appropriate support where and when it is needed, by measuring student progress in the classroom, and by meaningfully distinguishing good schools from bad.
The leaders of our country’s state education departments have worked together to develop a set of shared principles that outline how schools, districts, and states should be held accountable for improving student achievement.
States are ready for change, and they cannot wait on federal inaction. Forty-four states and D.C. have agreed to incorporate the shared principles into their reform agendas and are implementing changes now. The administration’s decision to grant waivers will allow states to continue advancing reform efforts to improve student achievement and close the achievement gap without the barriers created by NCLB.
Until Congress writes and reauthorizes a new, improved federal law that gives the public education system a long-term opportunity to fix its most vexing problems, states should be given the flexibility they need to demonstrate their continuing commitment to the promise of leaving no child behind.
Gene Wilhoit is the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.