WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced on Monday that three more states would join the ranks of those given permission to ignore parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law in favor of their own school improvement plans.
The addition of Alaska, Hawaii and West Virginia brings to 37 the number of states operating outside the Bush-era law, along with the District of Columbia. Eight additional states, the Bureau of Indian Education, Puerto Rico and a coalition of California districts are waiting to hear about their requests, which would further dismantle the federal education overhaul from coast to coast.
"Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia can't wait any longer for education reform," Duncan said in a statement.
No Child Left Behind, also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, came up for renewal in 2007, and its requirements were not updated. Duncan has pushed lawmakers to revisit the law and make changes to accommodate challenges officials did not anticipate when they first passed the measure on a bipartisan basis in 2001.
"A strong, bipartisan reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act remains the best path forward in education reform, but as these states have demonstrated, our kids can't wait any longer for Congress to act," Duncan said.
In exchange for the waivers, states have had to show the Education Department they had their own plans to prepare students and improve teaching. States have sought the additional flexibility to implement their own efforts instead of following the sometimes rigid requirements included in No Child Left Behind.
The waivers also allow states to come up short on requirements that all students perform at grade level in math and reading by 2014.
If Congress were to update No Child Left Behind, the states would be forced to shift to the new national standards — potentially a headache for states that already have set forth on their own individualized plans.
Since President Barack Obama announced his administration would consider waivers from the law in September 2011, 45 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Bureau of Indian Education have sought permission to implement their own reform plan.
Alabama, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wyoming are still waiting to hear about their applications.
Additionally, a coalition of California districts has requested a waiver from the Education Department. The coalition of 10 school districts, known as California Office to Reform Education, or CORE, includes Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento districts and represents 1.2 million of the state's 6 million students.
Duncan has said that he does not want his department to get into district-by-district decisions. Such a shift would potentially add a tremendous amount of work for his department and perhaps consume thousands of hours of local districts' time to assemble the detailed plans to improve schools on their own terms.
California, Montana and Nebraska have not applied for waivers. North Dakota and Vermont withdrew their applications. As a result, those five states still will be required to meet the provisions of No Child Left Behind.