The White House announced that it would use executive orders to reform parts of No Child Left Behind, a controversial Bush-era bill that targets underperforming schools and sanctions those that don't meet set federal standards. No Child Left Behind set a standard that there would be 100 percent proficiency in reading and math by 2014.
In a Department of Education press release, congressional inaction was cited as the reason for the administration's workaround. States will be allowed to apply for waivers for exemption from No Child Left Behind, in exchange for promising to work within the lines of the White House's recommendations for reform.
Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, told Raw Story that though there are a number of problems with No Child Left Behind — "it's the size of a phone book" — the announced workaround is not justifiable.
"I'm old fashioned in that I like when our country's laws are actually passed by the legislature and not imposed by backdoor deals by a cabinet secretary," Hess said. While it's appropriate for waivers to be granted in exchange for promising to abide by the spirit of the law he said, "I am profoundly troubled by the notion that [Duncan] will allow states to stop complying with existing federal law if they do stuff off an Obama administration wish list."
The Obama administration submitted its recommendations for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) — the education package later renamed as No Child Left Behind — to Congress in March 2010, and pressed again for reauthorization in March 2011, before the start of another school year.
The waivers are only a temporary measure to help some states avoid sanctions and improve their schools, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.
“I cannot overemphasize how loud the outcry is for us to do something now,” Duncan said. “Our job, simply put, is to support reform at the state and local level. We need to get out of the way wherever we can.”
About 38,000 of the nation's 100,000 public schools fell below benchmark last year, and Duncan estimated that 80,000 would be below standards this year, The New York Times reported.
In a weekly radio address in May, President Barack Obama cited his own "Race to the Top" educational program as an example of the way he wanted to see reform take shape.
“We need to reward the reforms that are driven not by Washington, but by principals and teachers and parents. That’s how we’ll make progress in education – not from the top down, but from the bottom up,” Obama said.
White House Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes stressed the urgency for reform in the Department of Education's news release.
"America’s future competitiveness is being decided today, in classrooms across the nation," Barnes said. "With no clear path to a bipartisan bill in Congress, the President has directed us to move forward with an administrative process to provide flexibility within the law for states and districts that are willing to embrace reform."