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By Sara Myers April 10, 2013

Obama administration has approved waivers for many states

After the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 2011, better known as the No Child Left Behind Act, President Barack Obama incorporated statewide education waivers as a promise in his reelection campaign.

"We're going to let states, schools and teachers come up with innovative ways to give our children the skills they need to compete for the jobs of the future," Obama said on Sept. 23, 2011.

These waivers require states to create college-and career-ready standards; identify over- and under-performing schools; develop a plan that increases achievement at all performance levels, including identified subgroups; implement meaningful teacher and principal evaluations; and reduce duplicate paperwork and bureaucracy.

When the states sufficiently demonstrate these requirements, they get more flexibility in determining statewide goals and utilizing funding, as well as additional funding for the best and worst identified schools in the state.

Thirty-four of 44 states have been approved for the waivers, as well as the District of Columbia.  Waiting to be approved for waivers are Alaska, Hawaii, Alabama, Illinois, West Virginia, Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and the Bureau of Indian Education.  Wyoming and Texas signaled their intent to file waiver requests on March 10, 2013, but have not done so yet.

Requests from California and Iowa were rejected for not incorporating high enough standards for teacher and principal evaluations. North Dakota has withdrawn its application.

Although this promise was made during the reelection campaign, most of the waivers were approved before the election. Only two states, Maryland and Michigan, have been accepted and one state, California has been rejected since the president has been elected.

Although the waivers have been granted, one expert we consulted said it was too soon to say how effective they are at encouraging local solutions and removing incentives to teach to the test.

"It's really too soon to know how (the waiver) flexibility will play out, or whether the policy fixes or will fix  the 'worst mandates of NCLB,"" said Dr. Jennifer McMurrer, a senior research associate with the Center for Education Policy.  "We've now got a very wide range of different accountability systems--which are arguably less transparent."

Although the full effects of the waivers are unknown, the program does emphasize local control over educational programs, as well as alternative evaluations that are clearly designed to offer relief from No Child Left Behind. Therefore, we rate this as Promise Kept.

Our Sources

The White House, Remarks by the President on No Child Left Behind Flexibility,  Feb. 9, 2012


U.S. Department of Education, ESEA Flexibility, updates March 12, 2013.


U.S. Department of Education, ESEA Flexibility, June 7, 2012


Education Week, NCLB Waivers: A State by State Breakdown, updated March 28, 2013


Arne Duncan, California NCLB Waiver Letter, Jan. 4, 2013


Deborah Delisle, Letter to Iowa Re: ESEA flexibility,  June 2012


Barack Obama campaign,  The New Economic Patriotism: A Plan for Jobs and Middle Class Security,  October 2012


Email interview with Jennifer McMurrer, Center for Education Policy,  April 4, 2013

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