Obama calls for states to circumvent Bush's No Child Left Behind

Friday, September 23, 2011 | 10:15 a.m. CDT; updated 11:49 a.m. CDT, Friday, September 23, 2011

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.

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Derrick Fogle September 23, 2011 | 1:46 p.m.

The corollary to NCLB is No Child Allowed To Get Ahead.

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders September 23, 2011 | 2:58 p.m.

You know it's a good day when a sitting president encourages circumventing federal law.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith September 23, 2011 | 6:06 p.m.

Once again I find I was misinformed when attending public school.

According to what they told me, the Executive Branch of our federal government has the duty to ENFORCE existing law. If you don't like the law, get it changed - don't circumvent it!

Maybe they told me correctly and Mr. Obama was misinformed at Harvard. :)

(Report Comment)
Tim Trayle September 23, 2011 | 7:04 p.m.

Everyday that I teach, I face students who have been "taught to the test," and they are woefully unprepared to do actual independent, critical thinking about important issues. It's not their fault, of course. No Child Left Behind created powerful incentives for high schools to maximize test scores at the expense of all else. These students are superb at rote memorization of material if you tell them it will be on the test, and how it will appear. But that is not education.
Opening up a governed process through which educators can move away from the worst aspects of NCLB is a good thing--a small step that will hopefully lead to a more frank and realistic evaluation of secondary-ed in this country.

(Report Comment)
frank christian September 23, 2011 | 8:29 p.m.

TT -

Just trying to improve my own "independent,critical thinking process".

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle September 23, 2011 | 9:51 p.m.

More NCLB Info: Excerpts from a recent article in the Left Business Observer (#133)

"Since 2000, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Paris-based official think tank mainly sponsored by the world's rich countries, has been administering a battery of of internationally comparable tests every three years. Known as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), it measures achievement in reading, math, and science among 15-year olds in 34 OECD member countries (mostly rich ones) and 31 "partners" (mostly middle-income "developing" countries). In the case of China, only selected cities, notably Shanghai, were tested. Shanghai isn't representative of the rest of China, but its results are formidable.
Measured as a share of GDP, the U.S. is one of the world's biggest spenders on education, but comes in only at the middle of the PISA league tables.
In successful [best results compared to percent-of-GDP spending] systems like Ontario and Finland, teachers have a great deal of professional autonomy. There may be a national curriculum, but teachers are expected to know their subject well and develop their skills at imparting knowledge. Finland requires a master's degrees even for primary teachers; in most successful systems, master's are typical or even required in the subject area for secondary teachers. In some Asian systems, new teachers serve as apprentices to master teachers before they're allowed to run their own shows. There are no generalists just thrown to the wolves, as in the U.S.

And in most successful systems, standardized tests are rare, and are generally administered only at major breakpoints, like entrance into or graduation from high school. Administrators of top systems are very conscious of what other high-achieving countries do, and try to emulate what they can. The contrast with the U.S. is stark. In fact, there's no other country that does anything like what we are doing — the testing, the punitive evaluations, the vendetta against "bad" teachers. And most U.S. education specialists are largely unaware of what's going on abroad."

(LBO is paid subscription only, but uses the Creative Commons licence. This reproduction is authorized by appropriate attribution)

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle September 23, 2011 | 10:29 p.m.

One of the OECD/PISA reports cited in the LBO article (not the only one used) is here, entitled "Lessons for the United States":

It's pretty big, with lots of information that could easily be taken out of context. Including, interestingly enough, that for the highest performing countries, "...teachers are expected to make sure that (literally) no students will be allowed to fall behind..."

The difference is that those countries sink resources into making those educators capable of just that, instead of simply punishing them for failure.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith September 24, 2011 | 6:24 a.m.

A few totally random comments.

First, the population of Finland is ethnically and racially pretty uniform. Also, in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland there is a long tradition of recreational reading for both adults and children (including adults reading to children). Literacy in Finland is a matter of national pride; that used to be the case here too.

It may seem that it's been forever that testing has gone on in the United states, but not so. All of us present geriatrics were not subjected to heavy doses of testing while in grade and high school. In fact, we weren't ever subjected to ACT and SAT.

[I can paraphrase Ronald Reagan and say that because there was so much less to LEARN when we were kids that this was no problem. :)]

I'd like to see the curriculum for teacher training for Finland and other countries at the top of the list. How much time is spent honing subject skills and how much time is spent on "educational theory" crap.

A few decades ago an article in a Sunday supplement of a Washington, D. C. newspaper discussed the results of interviews with directors of very exclusive U. S. prep schools and the teachers at those schools. Directors and teachers were interviewed separately. These schools have the money to hire the best teachers available - and they do. Both directors and teachers said there are only TWO considerations: (1) the teacher must know the subject they're teaching exceptionally well; (2) the teacher must have a passion for the subject so as to spur student interest. Neither directors nor teachers had much good to say about teaching theory.

How well do today's teachers know the subjects they're teaching? How passionate are they about what they're teaching? Maybe I grew up in an exceptional public school district, but many of our teachers had those attributes.

(Report Comment)
Tim Trayle September 24, 2011 | 8:12 a.m.

FC: You seem to be following me. Weird.
But yes, critical reading skills are valuable. And folks, we have a useful example in FC's response. For example, he might have noted that in the link he posted, the author sets up a clear distinction:

"There is a distinct difference between teaching to the broad body of skills and knowledge that a test represents (good), and teaching to the exact items that will appear on the standardized test (indefensible and illegal). Teaching students how to answer a particular set of items that appears on a test shortchanges them ethically and educationally. The confusing part arises when we fail to make that distinction."
Now, only a tool would think that I and others who criticize teaching to the test are referring to the author's first example. But I know FC is not a tool...perhaps this was just a case of overhasty reading (by someone seeking to score some kind of bizarre personal points in a "contest" he alone recognizes).
Slinging out an isolated weblink to "prove" one's point is, sadly, a tactic I associate with the lazy students I noted in my first post, above. It's doubly sad when the link doesn't actually claim what it's "sponsor" wants to think it does. Sigh.

(Report Comment)
frank christian September 24, 2011 | 1:16 p.m.

Mr. T.- "It's doubly sad when the link doesn't actually claim what it's "sponsor" wants to think it does." I thought the claim by the author of the link, was that "taught to the test" in education should not be painted with the broad brush of disdain as is apparently being done by many including yourself. "The confusing part arises when we fail to make that distinction." "So the next time you hear that your child's teacher is "teaching to the test," think about this: The teacher may well be engaging in perfectly solid instruction." Did you use the term in this sense or as in "teaching to the exact items that will appear on the standardized test (indefensible and illegal)" which you planted squarely on the W. Bush sponsored NCLB?

"someone seeking to score some kind of bizarre personal points in a "contest" he alone recognizes" Who promised to always be there to "whack a mole" in these posts? Thought that was you.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire September 24, 2011 | 1:42 p.m.

The author used provocatively out of context headline in order to get anyone he could to waste a few minutes of their time reading his mediocre article. The article implies that it's rare for someone to teach to the test in the manner that most people mean when using the phrase, which was probably the author's intent and is something I unfortunately disbelieve. But then we are discussing education and therefore I must ask why we are listening to Frank...

(Report Comment)

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