WASHINGTON — Decrying the state of American education, President Barack Obama on Friday said states will get unprecedented freedom to waive basic elements of the sweeping Bush-era No Child Left Behind law. He called it an admirable but flawed effort that has hurt students instead of helping them.
Obama's announcement could fundamentally affect the education of tens of millions of children. It will allow states to scrap the requirement that all children must show they are proficient in reading and math by 2014 — a cornerstone of the law — if states meet conditions designed to better prepare and test students.
And the president took a shot at Congress by saying his executive action was needed only because lawmakers have not stepped in to improve the law for years.
"Congress hasn't been able to do it. So I will," Obama said. "Our kids only get one shot at a decent education."
Under the plan Obama outlined, states can ask the Department of Education to be exempted from some of the law's requirements if they meet certain conditions, such as imposing standards to prepare students for college and careers and setting evaluation standards for teachers and principals.
Despite allowing states to do away with the approaching 2014 deadline, Obama insisted he was not weakening the law, but rather helping states set higher standards. He said that the current law was forcing educators to teach to the test, to give little attention to subjects such as history and science and to even lower standards as a way of avoiding penalties and stigmas.