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House groups separate from Kline’s committee want to let states drop the federal testing and accountability requirements and develop their own plans.
When Bush proposed the act in 2001, proponents said that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals could close the achievement gap among disadvantaged students. Co-authored in the House by Rep. John Boehner — now Speaker Boehner — and passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, the bill vastly expanded the federal role in schools through yearly tests, progress reports and funding tied to results.
Since then, GOP goals have changed. “The Republicans today are much more conservative in the House,” Loveless said. “They don’t believe in the heavy hand of the federal government in education.”
By February 2012, Obama and Duncan began issuing the first round of waivers to No Child Left Behind, allowing states to adopt specific models for turning around underperforming schools and to tie teacher evaluations in part to student test scores.
If waivers are granted in the eight states where applications are still pending, 90 percent of the states and more than 97 percent of the nation’s schools soon will operate under waivers.
Kline maintains the waivers have done little to remedy problems and that the Obama administration hasn’t ensured that states are adhering to the improvement plans.
Lawmakers on both sides have criticized the piecemeal approach to reworking No Child Left Behind. But Democrats prefer the waiver model to the Republican bills currently up for debate, said U.S. Rep. George Miller of California, lead Democrat on the House Education Committee.
‘It’s a lost opportunity’
Duncan has defended the waiver system in his testimony before Congress, saying the administration is doing its best, without much help from lawmakers, to aid students and schools suffering under the strain of No Child Left Behind.
“Providing waivers was always, always our Plan B,” he said during a Senate oversight hearing in February.
So far, there is little sense in Washington that Congress will broker a bipartisan deal to halt or reverse the spread of waivers, according to Hess, Loveless and Miller.
“It’s a lost opportunity,” Miller said.
Corey Mitchell is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau. Twitter: @C_C_Mitchell