Education secretary defends No Child Left Behind waivers
“Providing waivers was always, always our Plan B," education Secretary Arne Duncan said.
February 7th, 2013
05:51 PM ET

Education secretary defends No Child Left Behind waivers

By Sally Holland, CNN

Washington (CNN) - Republicans and Democrats in the Senate agreed Thursday that they would prefer a reauthorized education bill that updates school standards, instead of allowing more waivers for states to bypass No Child Left Behind.

The 2001 No Child Left Behind act required that all students meet ambitious reading and math standards by 2014; schools that didn't would be subject to reforms or slashed funding. The standards have gotten tougher over the years and schools are struggling to keep up, or failing entirely. A reauthorized bill would set goals states see as more attainable.

“The bottom line is that it expired in 2007 except for a provision that says if Congress didn’t act, it would continue," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. "Congress didn’t act so it’s continuing. That’s our fault. That’s on us."

In 2011, the White House announced states could apply for waivers that would relieve them from provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or No Child Left Behind, while still giving them access to federal education funding. To get a waiver, they would have to meet standards laid out by the U.S. Department of Education.

The waivers have been controversial among Republicans who object to the stipulations the Obama administration puts onto many states before they're awarded.

"This simple waiver authority has turned into a conditional waiver with the secretary basically having more authority to make decisions that, in my view, should be made locally by state and local governments," Alexander said.


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Filed under: Arne Duncan • NCLB • Politics
My View: Why I will vote for President Obama
President Barack Obama talks with teachers during a education roundtable at Canyon Springs High School in Las Vegas, Nevada on August 22, 2012.
October 24th, 2012
04:10 AM ET

My View: Why I will vote for President Obama

Courtesy Jack MillerBy Diane Ravitch, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Diane Ravitch was assistant secretary of education in the administration of George H.W. Bush. She is a historian of education and is now a research professor at New York University.  She is the author of several books on education, including her latest “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education.”   She blogs daily at and can be followed on Twitter at @DianeRavitch.

Schools of Thought will be publishing other views on this topic in the days up to the election.

(CNN) - Over the past three years, I have been an outspoken critic of the education policies of the Obama administration. In my view, Race to the Top is a disastrous program that is almost indistinguishable from the Bush administration’s failed No Child Left Behind legislation. Both programs require teaching to the test, both encourage privatization of our public schools, and both have demoralized the nation’s educators while doing nothing to improve education.

But as bad as the Obama education policies are, they are tolerable in comparison to what Mitt Romney plans. Romney claims credit for the academic successes of Massachusetts, but he had nothing to do with the gains in that state, which were enacted 10 years before he became governor. The Massachusetts education reforms doubled the budget for public schools, increased spending on early childhood education, and raised standards for new teachers, but Romney intends to do none of that if elected President.

If elected president, Romney will curtail spending on everything except privatization of public education. He will lower standards for entering the teaching profession. His policies will devastate our public schools and dismantle the education profession. He supports charters and vouchers and welcomes the takeover of public schools by for-profit entrepreneurs. Unlike the Massachusetts reforms that he wrongly takes credit for, he offers not a single idea to improve public education. Romney nowhere acknowledges that free public education is a public responsibility and an essential institution in a democratic society.

Under a Romney administration, I fear not only for the future of public education but for the future of our society. Presently, nearly 25% of American children are growing up in poverty. We lead the advanced nations of the world in child poverty. Romney offers no proposals to reduce that scandalous number. Only government action can make a dent in a problem of that magnitude, but Romney believes in private charity, not government action.

A majority of states set different benchmarks by race
October 17th, 2012
12:54 PM ET

A majority of states set different benchmarks by race

By John Martin and Nick Valencia, CNN

(CNN) - Civil rights groups and some parents are concerned that new proficiency targets in several states are selling African-American students short.

A majority of U.S. states and the District of Columbia have set up different benchmarks for different groups, including racial and ethnic student populations.

Florida is the latest state to establish race-based standards. By 2018, 74% of the state’s African-American students must be proficient in math and reading. That is a lower standard than the state’s white (88%), Hispanic (81%) or Asian students (90%) are expected to reach by the same year.

On the surface, this may look like less is being expected of some kids. But there’s an explanation that’s rooted in how we assess student performance under No Child Left Behind.

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Filed under: NCLB • Policy • Testing
August 20th, 2012
01:31 PM ET

Suspicious test results in Philadelphia public schools

(CNN) – In Philadelphia, a community news organization reports 53 schools were flagged for cheating across multiple grades. As in Atlanta, many of the cheaters aren't students; they're educators – teachers and principals. CNN contributor and educator Steve Perry tells Soledad O'Brien that he has a solution using technology that could limit this kind of cheating.

We want to hear your solutions – how can cheating by educators be stopped?

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Filed under: Cheating • NCLB • Perry's Principles • Policy • Practice • video
More states and D.C. receive NCLB waivers; Vermont, Alabama, Nebraska reject them
July 24th, 2012
06:06 AM ET

More states and D.C. receive NCLB waivers; Vermont, Alabama, Nebraska reject them

By John Martin, CNN

(CNN) - The White House announced on Thursday that it would grant seven additional waivers from restrictive provisions of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Oregon, South Carolina, and Washington, D.C. will receive the newest flexibility waivers, according to a U.S. Department of Education press release. To date, 32 states and D.C. have received waivers.

The NCLB law, also known as the Elementary and Secondary School Act (ESEA), has many sections, and through these waivers, federal officials are allowing states to set their own standards for parts of the law. The waivers aren’t an automatic reprieve from all aspects of NCLB.

In order to receive these ESEA flexibility waivers, states provided evidence that they would initiate education reform efforts approved by the Obama administration, including linking student test scores to teacher evaluations.

Many supporters of the 2002 law say that the intent of NCLB is to improve education for all students, including poor and minority students, but critics contend that the law has created a “teach to the test” culture in too many classrooms.

Read more about NCLB and NCLB waivers

States are asking for waivers because they consider NCLB’s goals unattainable or even unrealistic. The law mandates that all students be proficient in reading by the end of third grade by 2014, and that all students will graduate from high school. States are far from accomplishing these goals; almost half of America’s schools are failing to meet these NCLB mandates.

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My View: Education is key to breaking the bonds of poverty
July 23rd, 2012
06:32 AM ET

My View: Education is key to breaking the bonds of poverty

Courtesy Bill ParrishBy Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III is the senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ on the Southside of Chicago.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Our current education policies are binding some of our children into a future in which their social fabric is tattered and sometimes broken.

Our nation has not truly committed to eliminating structural economic inequality since President Johnson’s war on poverty. With over 46 million Americans living in poverty, and nearly 50 million who are food insecure, and close to 25 million Americans looking for a job while we face record-breaking rates of foreclosure, we must provide a common foundation beneath which no child falls.

We can do this by giving all children fair and equal opportunities to learn. Yet, by failing to authorize a new federal education framework, Congress has left the states with two choices: to continue the failed policies of No Child Left Behind or apply for a waiver and be subjected to unrealistic requirements and reforms that aren’t much different.

As the parent of two children in public school I am saddened by the tone of the debate about the future of education and the lack of imagination in popular reform proposals that seem to be directed largely at privatizing our school systems. Many of the men and women shaping policy can afford private schools, tutors and have access to other well-funded supplemental programs, but it is our children in struggling communities who are becoming casualties of these education battles.

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Filed under: Economy • NCLB • Voices
Ohio links teacher pay to test scores
July 11th, 2012
04:37 PM ET

Ohio links teacher pay to test scores

By Carl Azuz, CNN

(CNN) – At a time when test scores are used to determine everything from district funding to whether schools can stay open, they’re taking on even broader meaning in Ohio.

Gov. John Kasich has signed legislation that will partially link scores to what teachers are paid.

In Ohio – and many other states throughout the country – teachers have traditionally been evaluated by observers who’ve determined whether the instructors are satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

Evaluations will continue to play a role in Ohio.  But by the 2013-14 school year, Ohio public school districts will be giving each teacher a grade, and half of that grade will be based on how much students learn, gauged by their test scores.

Decisions about salary, which teachers to promote, and which ones to fire will be based on these results.  Teachers’ seniority will take a back seat in the new policy, and all but the top teachers in the state will be evaluated every year.

There are several reasons for the changes.  One lies in the state budget, which specifies that student academic growth must determine at least 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

Another is the federal government’s Race to the Top program.  In order to receive funds from it, Ohio is one of several states that have promised to find ways to measure and prove students’ academic growth.

A third reason is that Ohio is one of a majority of states that have gotten an Obama administration waiver from parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law.  In order to do that, the state has had to devise more detailed evaluations for teachers and base personnel decisions on them.

Some observers point out that the new Ohio law could still be changed or watered down before it goes into effect.

What’s wrong with America’s school system? Tell us here. 

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Filed under: Carl Azuz • education • Issues • NCLB • Race to the Top • Teachers
My view: Getting education reform right
June 13th, 2012
06:00 AM ET

My view: Getting education reform right

Courtesy DC WhittenburgBy John Kuhn, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: John Kuhn is superintendent of Perrin-Whitt Consolidated Independent School District, the same rural Texas school district he attended as a student from kindergarten through 12th grade.

(CNN) - In an election year where the question of our nation’s fiscal future is front and center, we cannot forget that the educational progress of our children is pivotal for renewing U.S. prosperity. Yet more than 10 years after its enactment, there is scant evidence that the Bush-era No Child Left Behind federal law has lived up to its promise to provide a better quality education for students being left behind in public schools. Indeed, we are witnessing its failures in real time, and millions of our neediest children stand in the dust of No Child Left Behind.

While NCLB has made blaming and shaming local schools and individual middle-class educators the centerpiece of education policy, Texas schools are funded through a system, the Target Revenue System, in which each school district is assigned a dollar amount per student that varies according to property wealth. Areas blessed with high property values or mineral wealth automatically have more money pumped into their school systems, which translates directly into newer computers, better books and more qualified teachers for their children.

So while each district is required to offer the same mandated programs and have its students achieve an identical minimum in terms of test scores, attendance rates and graduation rates, the schools in wealthier communities receive more resources with which to achieve the same results. Our kids all run the same race; it’s just that some of them get to wear Nikes, and some get flip flops. Good luck kids.

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Filed under: Issues • NCLB • Policy • Race to the Top • Testing • Voices
Obama administration gives 8 states waivers on No Child Left Behind
"States must show they are protecting children in order to get flexibility. These states met that bar," Arne Duncan said.
May 30th, 2012
10:17 AM ET

Obama administration gives 8 states waivers on No Child Left Behind

By Greg Seaby, CNN

Washington (CNN) - The U.S. Department of Education granted eight additional states waivers Tuesday from strict requirements of the No Child Left Behind law.

The White House announced a deal last year that allows states relief from provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or No Child Left Behind (NCLB), if certain standards are met.

The federal flexibility will be allowed "in exchange for state-developed plans to prepare all students for college and career, focus aid on the neediest students, and support effective teaching and leadership, " according to the U.S. Department of Education.

With the addition of eight news states, the Obama administration has approved 19 states so far, while 17 states and the District of Columbia are under review.

U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the latest waivers for Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island at an event in Hartford, Connecticut.

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Filed under: NCLB • Policy
The high stakes of standardized tests
A sign on a bulletin board at P.S. 321 in Brooklyn, New York alerts parents and teachers about a forum on high-stakes standardized testing.
May 17th, 2012
06:29 AM ET

The high stakes of standardized tests

Listen to CNN Radio's podcast from Steve Kastenbaum about high-stakes standardized testing.

by Steve Kastenbaum, CNN

(CNN) Standardized tests are nothing new in public schools. Chances are you filled out bubbles on an answer form at some point during your schooling. But for the past few years, scores from statewide tests in English and math have been used to determine which schools are doing a good job of educating students and which are “failing.”

Today, the test results count for more than just a letter grade for a school. Teachers in some states are now being labeled good or bad based on their students’ scores.

Welcome to the world of high-stakes standardized testing.

“I find it the most absurd thing in the world. I don’t know anyone who thinks they’re valid,” said Principal Anna Allanbrook at Public School 146 in Brooklyn, New York. “So the morale is down because teachers are worried that people who don’t really know their work will make decisions about their jobs.”

Standardized tests have long been used as one measure of a student’s progress in core subjects. But now, federal funding hinges on test results. It started with President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, which requires states to rate schools based on test results in order to receive federal funds.

President Obama’s administration then dangled an additional $4.3 billion dollars in front of school administrators in a competition called Race to the Top. In order to qualify for multi-million dollar grants, U.S. Department of Education spokesman Peter Cunningham said, states had to include test results in the process of identifying good and bad teachers.

“Some of those testing results need to be used to help identify schools that are struggling so that we can give them additional interventions, but they also need to be part of how we evaluate teachers,” said Cunningham.

Across the country, teachers, principals and parents are pushing back against the test results carrying so much weight. More than 1,400 New York principals signed onto a letter to the state education commissioner that said the tests are deeply flawed. The outgoing Education Commissioner in Texas called standardized testing “the heart of the vampire.” Jenny LaCoste-Caputo of the Texas Association of School Administrators said, “This one test has become the single measure for a student’s success, for a school’s success, and that’s what is absolutely wrong.”

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Filed under: NCLB • Podcast • Policy • Practice • Race to the Top • Testing
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