WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration effectively gutted the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law Monday, giving states a way out of a decade-long policy that focused on holding schools accountable but labeled many of them failures even if they made progress.
On Monday, states including Montana, Minnesota, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Virginia and Georgia announced their plans to file for waivers.
To get a waiver from the program, however, states must agree to host of education reforms the White House favors -- from tougher evaluation systems for teachers and principals to programs tackling the achievement gap for minority students.
The federal law, which requires every student to be proficient in science and math by 2014, is four years past due for reauthorization. But it's become mired in the increasingly bipartisan mood on Capitol Hill despite repeated calls from President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan for changes to be made before the school year starts. Obama sent an overhaul proposal to Congress 16 months ago.
Recent high-profile cheating scandals in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., have called attention to the heavy reliance on statewide standardized testing. Experts say many districts feel pressure to meet the standards to avoid penalties under the law.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said the federal law "does not give you a comprehensive view of progress being made."
"I think ultimately the people understood that the more they got into and the more the years passed and those percentages began to escalate, that there were significant structural problems built into it," said Deal, who voted for No Child Left Behind in 2001 while in serving in Congress.
Montana Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau said she welcomes the waiver proposal as long as it offers relief from the 2014 deadline. She said her state isn't afraid of high standards and education reform but needs enough time to reach those standards and the ability to institute change in a way that works for Montana.
"They can set the bar wherever they want. They just have to let us have the flexibility to get there," Juneau said.
Through the waivers, schools will get some relief from looming deadlines to meet testing goals. Details on the waivers will be provided to states next month.
Democrats in Congress lined up behind the White House's plan.
"Given the ill-advised and partisan bills that the House majority has chosen to move, I understand Secretary Duncan's decision to proceed with a waiver package to provide some interim relief while Congress finishes its work," said Senate education committee chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, in a written statement.
Duncan said that the plan for temporary relief from some aspects of the federal law would not undermine what Congress is still discussing in terms of revising federal education laws. The long-awaited overhaul of the law began earlier this year in the House, but a comprehensive reform appears far from the finish line.
"What we do in terms of flexibility can be a bridge or transition," Duncan said. "We all want to fix the law. This might help us get closer to that."
"I can't overemphasize how loudly the outcry is to do something now."