More Than Half of States Now Have NCLB Waivers

By Alyson Klein — July 16, 2012 4 min read

Reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act remains stalled in Congress, but the Obama administration continues to push ahead with big changes to the accountability system at its core, with more than half the states now having been approved for waivers from major mandates of the law.

The U.S. Department of Education so far has granted conditional waivers to 26 states from mandates such as the 2013-14 deadline for bringing all students to proficiency on state tests and the NCLB law’s teacher-quality requirements. In exchange, states have promised to adopt college- and career-readiness standards, measure teacher effectiveness in part by student outcomes, and set alternative goals for student achievement.

Nine states and the District of Columbia are waiting to hear about waiver applications submitted in February. Early this year, the department issued waivers to 11 states that applied last fall.

Keeping Score

As of July 13, 26 states had received federal flexibility from some provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, and nine states and the District of Columbia were still waiting to hear from the U.S. Department of Education about pending pplications.


SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education

In the latest two rounds of waivers—June 29 and July 6—seven states were added to the approved list. Among them was Virginia, which has not adopted the Common Core State Standards. Its inclusion could put to rest the idea that states must adopt the common standards in mathematics and English/language arts in order to get a federal waiver.

The other states that got waivers in the past month were Arkansas, Missouri, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, seven states have received an alternative form of leeway—separate from the conditional waivers—that enables them to hit the pause button on a key component of the NCLB compliance clock. The states were given permission to freeze their goals for “annual measureable outcomes"—or AMOs—for one year while they work on their waiver plans or wait for the final word on pending applications.

Out of Bounds?

Some critics have said the federal government has overstepped its authority by requiring states to adopt college- and career-readiness standards to get a waiver—essentially forcing states, they argued, to embrace the common core—or go through a lengthy and difficult process of coming up with their own standards. So far, 46 states and the District of Columbia have signed on to the common standards.

The Obama administration has long insisted that the requirements merely call for states to set standards that will get students ready for college or the workforce. Those standards could be the common core, or they could be standards that a state’s university system agrees will prepare high school graduates for credit-bearing college coursework.

The waiver given to Virginia—the product of a back-and-forth process with the federal Education Department—doesn’t require changes to the state’s standards or the process for setting them, showing that the second option of going through the university system can work.

The notion that states must join the common core to get a waiver is “simply and absolutely a myth,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a conference call with reporters last month.

Still, to get the waivers, states had to make changes to their original applications. For instance, Utah negotiated with the department over whether its goals should be focused primarily on proficiency (getting students over a particular bar) or growth (improving student performance over time), said Judy Park, the associate superintendent for student services and federal programs in the Utah education department.

“We were determined to keep growth as a major focus in our accountability system. And, at the end of the day, we were allowed to do that,” she said. The state “never approached this process with an attitude of, ‘We’ll do whatever it takes to get this approved,’ ” she added.

Iowa’s Challenge

But Iowa had its bid denied after the federal Education Department decided that the state’s education agency did not have the authority to enforce the requirement that teachers and principals be evaluated in part on student outcomes, a key component of the department’s conditional waivers. In fact, state lawmakers passed a measure saying that changes to the teacher-evaluation system must get legislative approval, adding an extra stumbling block, said the state director of education, Jason Glass.

“That created an unworkable situation,” Mr. Glass said. “We’ve been negotiating with the U.S. Department of Education to try to find a way through this. It’s just not possible. We are very disappointed that our state is [still] under the onerous shame-and-blame policies of NCLB for another year.”

Still, he pointed out, the department’s letter left the door open.

“The letter very carefully does not say ‘denied,’ ” he said. “It says ‘cannot be approved at this time.’ ” That means there is hope that if the legislature acts, Iowa could still get a waiver, Mr. Glass added. Iowa’s legislature isn’t in session.

Iowa still was able to join six other states—Alabama, Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, and West Virginia—in getting one-year freezes on their AMOs, which are goals for the percentage of students states plan to bring to proficiency on state tests in a given year. That could help limit the number of schools identified for interventions under the 10-year-old NCLB law, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Kansas and Idaho have waiver applications pending. The others, except for Iowa, are planning to apply for the flexibility in the fall.

Staff Writer Andrew Ujifusa contributed to this story.
A version of this article appeared in the July 18, 2012 edition of Education Week as Waivers Continue Chipping Away at NCLB


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Strategies & Tips for Complex Decision-Making
Schools are working through the most disruptive period in the history of modern education, facing a pandemic, economic problems, social justice issues, and rapid technological change all at once. But even after the pandemic ends,

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Biden Pick for Education Civil Rights Office Has History With Racial Equity, LGBTQ Issues
Biden selected Catherine Lhamon to lead the Education Department's civil rights work, a role she also held in the Obama administration.
2 min read
Flags decorate a space outside the office of the Education Secretary at the Education Department in Washington on Aug. 9, 2017.
Flags decorate a space outside the office of the Education Secretary at the Education Department in Washington on Aug. 9, 2017.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Federal Lawmakers Press CDC About Teachers' Union Influence on School Reopening Guidance
Republican senators asked CDC Director Rochelle Walensky about reports a teachers' union had input on guidance for schools on COVID-19.
3 min read
Dr. Rochelle Walensky speaks during an event in Wilmington, Del., to announce President-elect Joe Biden's health care team on Dec. 8, 2020.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC director, speaks during an event in Wilmington, Del., to announce then-President-elect Joe Biden's health care team on Dec. 8, 2020.
Susan Walsh/AP
Federal Biden Taps Ex-Obama Aide Roberto Rodriguez for Key Education Department Job
Rodriguez served as a top education staffer to President Barack Obama and currently leads a teacher-advocacy organization.
3 min read
Federal Biden Pitches Plan to Expand Universal Pre-K, Free School Meal Programs, Teacher Training
The president's $1.8 trillion American Families Plan faces strong headwinds as Congress considers other costly administration proposals.
8 min read
President Joe Biden addresses Congress from the House chamber. Behind him are Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress Wednesday night, as Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., applaud.<br/>
Chip Somodevilla/AP