Five more states, including Missouri, have been granted relief from key requirements of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law, meaning that 24 states have now received a waiver from federal requirements related to elementary and secondary student achievement.
Besides the Show-Me State, Arkansas, South Dakota, Utah and Virginia are now free from No Child Left Behind requirements mandating that all students test proficient in math and reading by 2014.
In exchange, the states must develop accountability plans that set new targets for raising achievement, advancing teacher effectiveness, preparing students for careers and college and improving the performance of low-performing schools.
Many educators, including several in Nodaway County, have long said that meeting the law's annually escalating requirements is what amounts to an impossible task.
State Rep. Mike Thomson, Maryville, considered by many to be the leading expert on education in the Missouri House, said over the weekend he has yet to acquaint himself with details about the waiver but that it appears to be a positive development.
"I believe it basically puts us in a position to be able to judge our schools on our new state standards (known as the Missouri School Improvement Program) and not on the federal standards which many felt were a formula for failure," Thomson said.
He added that No Child Left Behind's focus on nationally normed tests "limits the flexibility of curriculum in our schools," and argued that since most public schools in northwest Missouri meet or exceed existing accreditation standards they should not be saddled with excessive federal regulation.
"I believe that the education of our kids needs to be left in the hands of the state, not the federal government," said the former teacher, administrator and coach.
Democrats and Republicans have long agreed that the No Child Left Behind law is broken but have been unable to frame a solution.
The law has been praised for focusing on the performance of minorities, low-income students, non-English speakers and special education students. But it has been widely criticized for labeling schools as failed if just one specialized groups does not meet prescribed targets.
Critics also say No Child Left Behind has also forced teachers to "teach to the test" and led schools to narrow their curriculums.
"We all understand that the best ideas don't come from Washington, and moving forward, these states will have increased flexibility with federal funds and relief from NCLB's mandates, said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
Duncan and the White House have pushed for a comprehensive reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, but there has been little movement in Congress. After Duncan warned that 82 percent of schools could be labeled as "failing," the Obama administration announced last year that states could apply for waivers.
The five states approved for waivers Friday were among 26 states that submitted requests for flexibility in February. The Education Department announced waivers for eight of those states in May. Another 13 are still under review. Waivers for the first 11 were granted in February.