Key federal education provisions could be dropped in Tennessee

Monday, August 8, 2011 at 11:00pm

In what Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is calling “encouraging news,” President Barack Obama on Monday ordered the U.S. Department of Education to grant No Child Left Behind waivers to states, a huge unilateral step in making the controversial federal law more flexible.

In exchange, states must adopt an unspecified set of education reforms, with details forthcoming in September. From there, states would have a couple months to put together formal applications. Waivers would be granted at some point during the 2011-2012 school year.

“No Child Left Behind has been valuable in raising standards and expectations since it became law, but this is encouraging news,” Haslam spokesman David Smith said in a statement.

In July, Haslam joined other state governors in calling for the Obama administration to waive the law’s requirements, suggesting its stringent standards would lead to perpetual failure. Michigan and Kentucky have also asked for waivers, while Idaho, Montana and South Dakota have said they plan to ignore pieces of the law. 

“It’s like telling a lot of us, ‘You need to swim from California to Hawaii tomorrow,’ ” the governor said at the time. “Well, none of us are going to make it. That’s not a good standard. Give us a way that we can show that we’re making real progress.”

With increased proficiency standards, an unprecedented number of schools in Tennessee have failed to meet so-called Adequate Yearly Progress, as defined by the law. Results from tests taken during the 2010-2011 school year came out last week.

Metro Nashville Public Schools has 55 “high-priority” schools under the law. The school district itself is also deemed “high priory” after it fell to the law’s “Restructuring I” classification for failing to meet achievement benchmarks for the fifth year.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan — set to join Haslam and others in Nashville for a roundtable discussion Wednesday at West Middle School — announced that waivers would be granted to states that have adopted their own teacher evaluation, testing and accountability programs, among other steps.

On Monday, Duncan applauded Tennessee for heightening its academic standards, calling the move “courageous" according to media reports. Tennessee appears to be a likely candidate for a waiver.

“Given the stated criteria, we remain hopeful that the Department of Education will look favorably on Tennessee’s application for relief from the inappropriate mandates of No Child Left Behind,” Tennessee’s education commissioner Kevin Huffman said. 

Under the current NCLB system, a certain percentage of students in different subgroups — organized by race, English proficiency, and economic status, among other criteria — must hit specified proficiency goals in different academic subjects. Failure to meet goals among any subgroup gives schools and school systems a failing label.

NCLB carries the bold requirement that 100 percent of all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014, which would be thrown out with Duncan’s waivers. 

The New York Times has called Duncan’s decision to bypass congressional support for the waivers “the most sweeping use of executive authority to rewrite federal education law since Washington expanded its involvement in education in the 1960s.”

8 Comments on this post:

By: treehugger7 on 8/9/11 at 7:02

And here we are cleaning up another misguided BUSH program that even the repubs do not like. Yes, we blame Bush for a lot--because he made a huge mess as president. It takes a long time to overcome that much stupidity!

By: govskeptic on 8/9/11 at 7:09

Of course everyone wants to drop as many restrictions on accountability as possible.
Prior to No Child left behind Tenn was reporting a 91% proficiency in Math. After a
couple of years of more extensive testing it showed our overall proficiency in the
schools at 38% in math versus the previously claim of 91% ! Full implementation was to be in affect by 2014. Our state along with many others did so little in the first 6-8 yrs we now find it impossible to reach that 2014 requirement by the deadline without these waivers.

While no fan of federal government regulations, I'm also aware of
high school graduates for yrs being able to graduate but not be able to read above
a very low grade level. Why wonder that our economy is tanking, and unemployment
at 9.2% with very little hopes of improvement! Stop the whining and began the
process of letting the parents and students know that loafing is not acceptable!

By: localboy on 8/9/11 at 7:47

Good post, govskeptic.

By: RTungsten on 8/9/11 at 9:15

Can we go back to letting kids fail? That would be a good start.

By: localboy on 8/9/11 at 9:33

"Ironically, Tennessee received an F and had the lowest standards of all states, despite the fact that it is one of the two winners in the first phase of the bitterly contested Race to the Top (RttT) competition sponsored by the Obama administration’s Department of Education. Indeed, Tennessee has had the lowest standards of all states since 2003. Based on its own tests and standards, the state claimed in 2009 that over 90 percent of its 4th-grade students were proficient in math, whereas NAEP tests revealed that only 28 percent were performing at a proficient level. Results in 4th-grade reading and at the 8th-grade level are much the same. With such divergence, the concept of “standard” has lost all meaning. It’s as if a yardstick can be 36 inches long in most of the world, but 3 inches long in Tennessee."

By: dregstudios on 8/9/11 at 1:31

Bill IS on a roll between taking the word “gay” out of school, making it illegal to send an offensive email, making it illegal to post offensive images to the internet, and NOW leaving the government program put in place to raise our expectations of schools. I was compelled to create a visual commentary in response Governor Haslam’s blatant smothering of Civil Rights in our state on my blog at where you can see my new portrait of the Governor and First Lady of TN to defend Freedom of Speech.

By: silverhaired on 8/9/11 at 1:52

As Tennessee its waiver from the NCLB standards, we might as well wave goodby to the futures of those students who naively advance through our school system without a clue as to how educationally deficient they really are.

Just because the students aren't being confronted by their academic failures, doesn't mean they aren't failing.

Reality eventually surfaces. A poorly educated child with a high school diploma will most likely become a poorly educated adult with a high school diploma.

By: GammaMoses on 8/9/11 at 7:25

silverhaired--you are so right.
treehugger7--Ted Kennedy was NCLB's biggest promoter. He, along with George Miller, Judd Gregg and John Boehner worked on NCLB as a bipartisan effort to improve education nationwide. NCLB put a magnifying glass on TN's educational system. How to fix it was left up to the school systems. The victim is the child.