The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 set in motion ambitious yearly goals for U.S. schools, culminating in full compliance by 2014.
According to the law, every student in the country must score at or better than proficient on their state’s standardized test by the end of this academic year. Otherwise, his or her school could face restrictions on how federal funding can be used.
However, a steady stream of waivers approved by the U.S. Department of Education granting states exemption from mandates and increasing gridlock over the act’s already overdue reauthorization make the future of No Child Left Behind unclear.
What comes after 2014?
One thing is clear: After the end of this school year, the ever-rising proficiency targets will remain at 100 percent until Congress reauthorizes the legislation, according to David Holbrook, the Wyoming Department of Education’s Federal Programs Director.
Consistently underperforming schools in states without exemptions from the rising proficiency targets could face sanctions on how some federal funding may be spent. Schools in states with waivers may dodge the sanctions, but it is unclear how long those waivers will last or be available.
Wyoming's request to stop the clock on rising proficiency targets was granted in August, allowing students to be held to 2011-12 proficiency goals.
“The worst thing that could happen would be for the waiver program to become a permanent fixture in American education,” Rich Crandall, director of the Wyoming Department of Education, said. Waivers for antiquated rules don't change the fact that the rules should have been redone years ago, Crandall said, adding that they put states in the precarious situation of having to renew waivers every few years.
In the meantime, Crandall said, the state is developing its own education accountability system.
Without a waiver and without reauthorization, Holbrook said, even Wyoming’s best schools would be labeled as underperforming under No Child Left Behind starting with the 2014-15 school year.
“If you end up in that kind of situation … the measure is not significant anymore. It becomes irrelevant,” Holbrook said. “Our state accountability model will then take much more permanence in terms of how we are ranking our schools.”
Gridlock and expectations
Any potential reauthorization of the legislation behind No Child Left Behind is already about six years overdue, according to the U.S. Department of Education. And in this Congress, reauthorization is looking unlikely, said Daniel Head, spokesman for Sen. Mike Enzi.
“Most of the momentum on this issue was lost when the President started issuing waivers in exchange for meeting new requirements,” Head wrote in an email to the Star-Tribune.
Enzi has been involved in education policy and a member of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee for more than a decade. He helped draft a bipartisan proposal for No Child Left Behind’s reauthorization two years ago. He cosponsored a Republican proposal for reauthorization, and in June offered a mark-up to the bill that would end the abuse of waivers, Head said.
Enzi also disagrees with requiring states to comply with initiatives that haven't been approved by Congress in order to secure waivers, Head said. Those requirements include adopting the Common Core State Standards in reading and math, or proving to the U.S. Department of Education that a state's standards prepare students for college or careers, among others.
“Our plan was and is to return education to state’s rights,” Head said. “(Enzi) wants to get Washington out of the business of deciding whether local schools are succeeding or failing."
A bill to overhaul No Child Left Behind and move much education oversight from the federal government to states passed the House with near-unanimous Republican support in July, including a yes vote by Rep. Cynthia Lummis. No Democrat voted for the bill, dubbed the Student Success Act, and the Obama administration says it will veto the bill if it moves forward.