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NCLB Waivers: Can they fix a “Broken” Law?

By June 5, 2012June 14th, 20164 Comments

Run down school pic.jpgIn May 2012, President Obama granted waivers for some requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) to an additional eight states, for a total of 19 states receiving waivers so far: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky,  Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Tennessee. An additional 18 states and the District of Columbia have applied for “wiggle room.” But what do waivers really mean for states, and do they really provide the flexibility they seem to promise?

According to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), waivers allow states to focus on students’ readiness for college and career, rather than arbitrary proficiency targets; design their own interventions for struggling students; use multiple measures for student proficiency, and not just high-stakes testing; and allow for more flexibility in the use of federal funds.

Based on the number of waiver applications submitted, it appears most states long for some breathing room from NCLB’s requirements. But the waivers aren’t without their critics. Some argue that they’re being forced to allocate resources to develop waiver applications that simply provide relief from already unattainable mandates, suggesting that a blanket waiver from some of NCLB’s more onerous requirements, such as bringing all students to proficiency in reading and mathematics by 2014, is more appropriate.

And though the waivers do liberate states from the 2014 proficiency requirements, compliance with NCLB still rides on standardized test scores, resulting in continued concerns around the narrowing of curriculum and teaching to the test.  Other critics worry that the waivers will lessen the focus on achievement gaps among socioeconomic and demographic subgroups, creating potential civil rights issues.

What do you think? Has your state applied for (or received) a waiver? Are waivers changing what happens in the classroom?

Read a rundown of the feedback from DOE to the 26 second-round states.

Written by Kirsten Miller, McREL lead consultant

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.


  • BL says:

    Our waiver has eliminated some of the anxiety associated with the negative consequences of NCLB. We now are re-focusing energy on professional development, standards alignment and best practices in instruction.

  • I teach in one of the states that has applied for a waiver, Ohio. I believe we were also one of the last states to officially adopt the new National Standards. Event though I do not teach a grade that feels all of the pressures of high stakes testing, I feel that implimenting the standards that encourage students to be career and college ready will be met with less intimidation if a little “wiggle room” as it was put, is given. Teachers need time to adjust and their craft. Although the standards themselves may seem similar in context, the level of application is more rigorous and demanding. Teachers need time to research and rethink best practices for successfully teaching children the skills they need to master these standards.

  • Y.W. says:

    I teach in one of the states that applied for a waiver as well, NM. We just adopted the Common Core Standards this year and while it all seems like a great idea, I am worried that the teachers that are the “wake me up when it’s time to retire” teachers will not be able to teach effectively. This means our students will suffer and in the end, so will the teachers. They are trying to pass the teacher evaluation program where your pay raise depends on how well your students test. This defeats the whole purpose of the NCLB waiver and with the common core standards, teachers will just teach to the test. Will our students really be getting what they need?

  • Lynda Hernandez says:

    Although I teach in one of the states that has been granted a wavier, it is still not enough wiggle room. I feel that in general, teachers are awash in mandates, reports, standards testing, etc. Every year I have less and less time to prepare for my actual teaching and am, instead, focused on getting my reports done. The quality of my teaching, and hence the quality of my student’s education, would greatly improve if I simply had more time to focus on preparing my lessons and optimizing my student’s educational experience.

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