In March 2011 President Barack Obama gave Congress an August 2011 deadline to rewrite the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Congress has made very little progress since then; and states and education leaders have placed increasing pressure on the Obama Administration to take action to relieve some of the constraints and penalties that NCLB imposes on states and school districts. On June 12, 2011 the New York Times and Education Week reported that, if Congress does not meet the President’s deadline, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is ready to provide relief to states and school districts by waiving some key NCLB requirements, either by exercising his broad waiver author under NCLB or by introducing new regulations. According to the articles, Secretary Duncan indicated that he is even willing to provide flexibility with regard to the NCLB requirement that all students must be proficient in reading and math by 2014. States, school districts and education leaders have long complained that the 2014 deadline is unrealistic as schools across the country continue to fail to meet adequate yearly progress based on students’ annual test scores.
Education Week reported that Secretary Duncan stated that, although he remains hopeful that Congress will rewrite NCLB by the deadline, he has a “moral obligation” to have a backup plan in the event that Congress does not. He stated that “the worst-case scenario is that Congress does nothing and we do nothing.” In a statement by the Secretary published at www.politico.com he stated that it is not his plan to give states and school districts a reprieve from accountability but “to unleash energy for reform at the local level even as Congress works to rewrite the law.” Secretary Duncan indicated that the flexibility granted to states will require commitments to the education reform priorities described in the Obama Administration’s March 2010 Blueprint for Reform and the Race to the Top initiative. According to the New York Times, the Secretary plans to immediately reach out to state governors, school officials and other education leaders to begin negotiating the types of waivers to be granted and the reforms to be required in exchange.