STATES WITH NCLB WAIVERS
• New Jersey
Source: Obama administration
Tennessee and Georgia are free from the federal No Child Left Behind law, allowing them to scrap some of the most rigorous and unpopular mandates in American education.
In exchange, they must promise higher standards and more creative ways to measure what students are learning.
President Barack Obama announced Thursday that 10 states are receiving waivers from the rules of No Child Left Behind.
It means Tennessee and Georgia schools are no longer held to a requirement that all students perform at grade level in math and reading by 2014, a goal that critics of the law said was unrealistic and led to teachers focusing too much on those subjects to the detriment of science and social studies.
Obama said he was acting because Congress had failed to update the law despite widespread agreement it needs to be fixed.
"If we're serious about helping our children reach their potential, the best ideas aren't going to come from Washington alone," Obama said at a news conference Thursday in Washington, D.C. "Our job is to harness those ideas, and to hold states and schools accountable for making them work."
Gov. Bill Haslam, who sought the waiver, welcomed the news Thursday, saying the state's recently created Achievement School District establishes the criteria for a failing school.
"It does not mean we're lowering standards at all," Haslam told reporters in Nashville.
Under No Child Left Behind, Haslam said, "thousands of teachers who are doing a great job and their classrooms are making an improvement" were going to be labeled failures or have their schools designated as failures.
"They're not going to live with that stigma if they're making the classroom and school improvements," Haslam said. "I think it's a really, really big deal."
Tennessee educators complain that No Child Left Behind sets impossibly high standards for schools with special education students and other hard-to-teach children.
"The goal [of NCLB] was never realistic," said Al Mance, executive director of the Tennessee Education Association, the state's largest teachers union. "This will give us a better opportunity to approach it in ways that have a better chance of being effective than previously."
Haslam said individual teachers have told him that, while their own classroom sees large improvements, they face being held responsible for the entire school's failure.
"It's affecting morale," Haslam said. "That'd be demotivating to me if I'm a teacher making real progress and doing a great job yet I'm labeled a failure."
In Georgia, the plan is to rate schools with a five-star system - rather than as passing or failing - to indicate whether a school is making gains.
The state also will use more subjects than just math and reading and more than one standardized test to calculate which schools pass muster.
"It really is taking accountability to the next level," said state schools Superintendent John Barge. "We can pinpoint with this new system where the shortcomings of a school may be and target those specifically."
Gov. Nathan Deal said the state needs flexibility to improve student performance.
"We appreciate the cooperation of federal officials as we seek to prepare young Georgians for higher education and the jobs of tomorrow," he said in a prepared statement.
Not everyone is a fan of the waivers. Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate said Obama is trying to politicize education, calling the waivers a temporary solution to an education law that needs to be entirely rewritten.
Obama had called for Congress to overhaul the law, which was passed in 2002 under former President George W. Bush, by last fall. And lawmakers in both parties agree it needs fixing, but they disagree on how to do that.
No Child Left Behind has been due for a rewrite since 2007.
Staff writer Andy Sher contributed to this story.