By GINA CAIRNEY
WASHINGTON (October 1, 2011)—Maryland may apply for a waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements after President Obama announced last week that he is allowing states to request flexibility from the decade-old law in exchange for a more rigorous system that promotes college and career readiness.
The Maryland State Department of Education is very interested in the waiver package, and according to MSDE spokesman Bill Reinhard, "the state is likely to sign on" after reviewing all the necessary information.
A reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, No Child Left Behind was signed into law in 2002 by President Bush, and has been the educational guideline for the last 10 years, aimed at improving student achievement and bringing math and reading proficiencies to 100 percent by 2014.
The law required states to annually test students in grades three to eight in reading and math, and required states to provide annual report cards showing the school districts' progress. The law also affected teachers, requiring educators in specific subjects to be highly qualified, meaning the teacher was certified to teach that subject with demonstrable proficiency.
"The law was written with the best of intentions," Reinhard said, but as time passed, the flaws in NCLB became apparent, as many schools were categorized as "failing".
Douglas B. Reeves, founder of the Leadership and Learning Center, wrote in 2008 for Educational Leadership, a publication by Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, that schools labeled as failing is "one of the most consistent criticisms" and is unfair because school performance is based on comparisons of test scores by fourth-grade students from the current year to fourth-grade students from the previous year.
No Child Left Behind was due for a reauthorization four years ago, but Congress failed to act, prompting Obama to step in to relieve states from the 2014 proficiency requirements.
According to the White House's ESEA Fact Sheet, states will be allowed to step away from the "one size fits all" approach and to design a system that will help lowest-performing schools as well as schools with the largest achievement gaps. States and schools will also have more flexibility in how they use their funds to best meet their students' needs.
Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said he's "glad someone finally brought common sense" to the discussion, adding that NCLB should be ended for a more appropriate system.
Before MDSE signs on for a waiver more information is needed, but Reinhard said "the waiver package is something to look forward to."
The waivers, however, will not just be given to states applying for flexibility. According to the U.S. Department of Education, states looking for flexibility from NCLB have to "develop a rigorous and comprehensive plan" that addresses three areas—transition to college and career-readiness; recognition and support; and teacher evaluation and support systems to improve educational outcomes for all students; and close achievement gaps.
Even before Obama's remarks, 44 schools, including Maryland and the District, have taken the initiative to reform their education systems, creating support networks for teachers and helping students learn beyond the test.
Starr said he will stay his course, focusing on teaching-learning environments and using the new Montgomery County Curriculum 2.0, a program that integrates creative thinking, critical thinking and academic success, emphasizing a well-rounded curriculum for grades kindergarten to five.
"I have never been in the practice to wait for the state and federal government to tell me what to do," he said.
The ESEA flexibility will also benefit parents because of yearly reports schools will have to provide, explaining whether their children are making academic progress based on the high standards developed by the school districts and the state.
"There is nothing that helps a child more than parents and caregiver engaged in their children's education," Romero said.