President Obama took his first step last week altering the 2001 No Child Left Behind law, a signature domestic-policy achievement of his predecessor, George W. Bush. In a move designed to take the pressure off of states where schools risk being labeled as failures, Obama is offering them waivers in exchange for intervening in low-performing schools, using college- and career-oriented curricula, and creating teacher and principal evaluation systems. It is the biggest change to the substance of the K-12 law since the original regulations were written.
Obama took a hard tone with Congress. "Our kids only get one shot at a decent education. They cannot afford to wait any longer. Given that Congress cannot act, I am acting," he said. The administration warned lawmakers that this was coming months ago. The waiver plan represents Obama's "Plan B" for updating No Child Left Behind. "Plan A" was that Congress would rewrite the law before the beginning of the school year.
Republicans don't like it. They call it a power play that gets in the way of bipartisan negotiations to change the law. They worry that the administration holds all the cards for states that must have a waiver or face punitive measures for failing schools.
Is this the beginning of the end for No Child Left Behind? How will the waivers impact individual schools and districts? Do lawmakers have any incentive to continue working on a reauthorization? Are states effectively off the hook if they get a waiver? Or are the standards states must meet to obtain the waivers just as rigorous as current law? How much power, if any, has the administration ceded to the states?