Georgia seeks NCLB waiver

Georgia seeks NCLB waiver

September 23rd, 2011 in Opinion Times

Georgia is among the first states in the nation to seek a waiver of a much-debated provision in the No Child Left Behind Act. The U.S. Department of Education will consider the request, made possible earlier this month when federal officials set forth rules that allowed states to make such pleas. Allowing a request, however, should not be tantamount to granting it.

The Georgia request, according to State School Superintendent John Barge, will ask for a waiver in the manner in which the state's schools are measured for yearly progress. Currently, Georgia schools -- and all others across the nation -- are measured by the Adequate Yearly Progress system. That requires all students in a school -- regardless of race, economic class, disability or language spoken -- to meet certain benchmarks. Meeting those standards has proved difficult in many schools in many places.

Schools that do not meet the requirements face sometimes harsh penalties. Students in those schools, for example, are allowed to transfer to higher performing institutions or might be entitled to tutors paid for by the system if they remain. Georgia educators and others argue that labeling an entire school as a failure because one group fails to meet standards is unfair. That's a legitimate complaint.

So is the argument that NCLB's rigid rules don't reflect the reality of the contemporary education, where outside factors -- lack of parental support, hunger, etc. -- can directly affect a student's academic performance but are beyond the school's ability to control. The Georgia request and others like it should prompt careful study and, perhaps, thoughtful revision of some current NCLB regulations.

That does not mean that wholesale change is required. NCLB has served a useful purpose. It has created a national framework for education expectations that is vital if the nation's students are to compete successfully against those from other countries. Those common-core standards should remain.

Waivers in certain circumstances make sense, but only if the rules and policies that replace them provide transparent academic accountability, are equitable and remain free of political taint.