It has been 30 years since the landmark report “A Nation At Risk” documented the failings of America’s public-school system, and the past three decades have seen much promising reform on the local, state and federal levels, in legislatures, on school boards and in classrooms. Yet today the trend lines again are moving in the wrong direction, with federal policy inviting states to back away from their duty to ensure that students receive the education they deserve.
Since 2011, the U.S. Department of Education has granted waivers to 34 states and the District of Columbia exempting them from some of the core accountability measures in the bipartisan 2001 No Child Left Behind law. Ten more states have waiver applications pending. Meanwhile, the Texas legislature is considering loosening public-school testing standards, and nine districts in California have independently moved to submit NCLB waiver requests.
No Child Left Behind was based on the idea that schools should establish measurable educational goals and be held accountable for meeting them. This is the only proven formula for improving education in this country–and NCLB has generated some amazing results, particularly in low-income minority communities. Unfortunately, opponents of the law have relied on disingenuous claims in pushing for waivers.