The Obama administrations use of waivers has now freed elementary and secondary schools in more than half the states from the constraints imposed on them by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Last week, the Education Department added Wisconsin and Washington to the list of states, now standing at 26, that are relieved from meeting the demands of the 2005 law that set unrealistic goals in raising student performance with an overemphasis on testing in math and reading.
The law requires schools to have all students reach proficiency, as defined by state standards, in the two subjects based on their performance in periodic testing by 2014. However, an unforeseen consequence has been to focus on those two subjects at the expense of other programs. Some states lowered their standards, and the law led to some cheating scandals involving school officials in order to meet the federal goal.
Education leaders have complained that the law is too restrictive. Many schools were labeled as failing for not meeting goals. In the 2010-11 school year, nearly half of the schools in the country failed to meet No Child Left Behind standards.
To its credit, the law also required schools to focus on subgroups such as minorities or low-income students rather than just a schools overall performance.
The law expired two years ago, but Congress has been unable to pass an overhaul that Democrats and Republicans agree is necessary.
Absent congressional action, President Obama has allowed Education Secretary Arne Duncan to issue waivers to states provided they submit acceptable alternatives.
Washington must still show improvement for the subgroups with achievements goals for various ethnic and economic groups to be reached by 2018. The state will use new teacher and principal evaluations and also test for writing and science. Wisconsin will use daily attendance and drop-out records as warning signs indicating when subgroups are failing.
Waivers previously granted to other states also linked teach evaluations to student test scores.
Waivers are pending in 10 more states and the District of Columbia. The administrations waivers allow more flexibility than the rigid federal standards in meeting student needs. They also permit more creative solutions to the problems of individual school districts.