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Action Alert: State Waivers for No Child Left Behind

On Monday morning, President Obama and the Department of Education announced that, in light of the fact that Congress has had years to reform the No Child Left Behind Act and has failed to do so, the Obama administration will be providing a process for states to apply for relief from key provisions of NCLB if they agree to move forward with specific educational reforms (to be named later).

NCLB has evoked strong criticism since it was first passed in 2001. Although there seems to be almost universal agreement that the act does need to be reformed, the disagreement centers on what that reform should look like. President Obama proposed his Blueprint for Reform 16 months ago, but Congress has failed to adopt it or reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and therefore NCLB has remained in place. In March 2011, President Obama asked that Congress reform and reauthorize the ESEA before the start of school; this did not occur. The ESEA (of which NCLB is the latest version) allows the executive branch to have waiver authority; yesterday Secretary Duncan announced they would be using this authority to allow states to avoid the requirements of NCLB by adopting yet-unspecified reforms.

These reforms will be specified in September, the White House said. All states are encouraged to apply for the waivers, and the applications will be peer-reviewed by people outside of the Department of Education. There is a great deal of speculation about what these waiver requirements will consist of, but the greater question is: is allowing states to bypass the requirements of No Child Left Behind for as-yet-unspecified, take-it-or-leave-it reform the right choice?

Reaction has already been vocal for both sides. The National Education Association is very concerned. So are the Education Trust, the National Council of La Raza, and the US Chamber of Commerce, all of whom issued a joint letter with suggested limits to the waiver program.

At the same time, no one has argued that NCLB should remain our educational policy as it is currently written. Perhaps this will push Congress to move forward with reauthorizing the ESEA, agreeing upon and enacting the needed reform to help schoolchildren across the country receive a better education.

Whether you think that this is the worst idea ever or the best, now is the time to share your opinion with Secretary Duncan and your Congressperson, before the Dept of Education has announced the details of the waiver program. I have said this before, but being a member of Mom Congress has reinforced to me over and over the power and effect that we can have when we take the extra step to reach out to our government and our elected officials, and advocate for what we think is right. Secretary Duncan honored Mom Congress twice by addressing us; he made it clear that he wants to hear what we think, as parents, educators, and citizens who care deeply about the education our children are receiving.

If you feel that NCLB waivers are going down the wrong path, the NEA has a number of issues on their website along with easy form letters that you can send to your representative just by entering your zip code and clicking send. On the other hand, to read more about the Department of Education’s waiver plan, visit their website. To contact your Congressperson with your thoughts, you can easily locate their contact information from the US House of Representatives website here and the Senate here.

Melissa Bilash is a dedicated education advocate and the 2010 Mom Congress Delegate from Pennsylvania.This piece was originally posted on August 10th, 2011 on her Advocay & Consulting for Education website.