States Seek to Avoid Compliance with NCLB Pending Congressional Rewrite


A July 6, 2011 article in Education Week online reported that several states have notified U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan that, as the 2014 deadline draws near for all students to be proficient in reading and math, they plan to “stop the clock” on increasing their respective schools’ annual measurable objectives as required by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Under NCLB, each state is required to increase its annual measureable objectives each year in order to determine if schools, school districts, or the state as a whole are making adequate yearly progress toward the NCLB proficiency goals. A school that repeatedly fails to meet adequate yearly progress is subject to escalating sanctions, including imposition of school restructuring that may involve firing teachers and/or principals. Since the enactment of the law in 2002, many schools and school districts have struggled to meet its mandates, and those that have not have been labeled as “failing.” Secretary Duncan has predicted that by the end of the 2012 school year more than 80 percent of the nation’s schools will be deemed “failing” under NCLB’s rigid accountability system. 

Education experts agree that some provisions of NCLB are flawed and, under its own terms, the law was scheduled to be revised several years ago. President Obama’s administration is strongly urging Congress to rewrite NCLB by the beginning of the 2012 school year to ease the imposition of sanctions and to provide a new system of student progress accountability for schools and school districts. To date, Congress has made very little progress.  Several states have responded to the delay with defiance: In an April 25, 2011 letter, the Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction advised Secretary Duncan that, in the absence of Congressional action, the State will not increase its current annual measurable objectives; a June 29, 2011 letter from the Secretary of the South Dakota Department of Education advised Secretary Duncan that the State intends to hold its annual measurable objectives at the 2009-2010 levels and re-set its graduation rate bar from its current 85 percent to 80 percent; and the Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction advised Secretary Duncan in a June 21, 2011 letter that the State will not increase its current targets for adequate yearly progress. According to Education Week, states have expressed frustration at having to meet the adequate yearly progress requirements of NCLB while, at the same time, attempting to transition to reform models recommended by the Obama Administration in its March 2010 Blueprint for Reform and the Race to the Top competition.

Secretary Duncan has warned that there is no statutory authority for a state to freeze its annual measurable goals and that a state’s federal funding may be withheld for failure to comply with NCLB requirements. (See the Secretary’s July 1, 2011 letter to the Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction). Education Week quotes a U. S. Department of Education official as saying “If Congress needs more time, our Plan B would be to offer relief in exchange for reform to states who desperately want flexibility from NCLB’s broken provisions. This will give all states the option of either complying with existing law or participating in Plan B. One way or another, we need to enforce the law or change it.”  Secretary Duncan announced in June that, if Congress does not rewrite the law by the beginning of the school year, he is willing to offer individual state waivers of some provisions of NCLB in exchange for the state’s commitment to implement some of the Obama Administration’s proposed education reforms; however, the Secretary has not yet provided details regarding which NCLB provisions can be waived and which education reforms will be mandated in exchange. 

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