The 2002 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) mandates all U.S. students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014. As the deadline draws near, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is under increasing pressure from school leaders to provide some relief from some of NCLB’s stringent requirements, according to an April 27, 2011 article in Education Week. Although NCLB gives the Education Secretary broad authority to grant waivers with regard to NCLB requirements, Secretary Duncan’s predecessors exercised considerable restraint in granting waivers. Secretary Rod Paige (2002-2004) granted only 8 waivers and Secretary Margaret Spelling (2005-2008) granted a total of 105. By contrast, according to the article, Secretary Duncan granted 315 NCLB waivers in 2009 and the 2010 tally is not yet available.
Education Week reported that, as Congress stalls in rewriting NCLB, Secretary Duncan’s waivers are gradually “chipping away at key parts” of the Act. For example, the article stated that recent waivers allow individual school districts to use tests that differ from the statewide tests, side-stepping the NCLB requirement that students, schools, and districts within a state be measured against the same tests. According to the article, the U.S. Department of Education indicated that such waivers are granted only “if the standards and cutoff scores on the tests are more difficult than those currently in place.”
Dozens of the waivers granted by Secretary Duncan were related to tutoring and school choice; however, according to Education Week, the majority of the waivers pertained to the use of 2009 stimulus funds for the education of disadvantaged students under Title I of NCLB. Education Week reported that some states are requesting waivers to ease AYP requirements or extend the proficiency deadline under NCLB; however, Secretary Duncan has indicated that he does not intend to change the proficiency timeline through administrative action and that any such change should be done through the legislative process.