Mississippi Receives NCLB Waiver, Promises Reform

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US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, says waivers from some of the provisions of No Child Left Behind will allow states such as Mississippi the flexibility to improve education. Photo by the Associated Press.

JACKSON, Miss. - The US Department of Education has granted Mississippi a waiver from some of the provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Law.  Mississippi is now one of 32 states no longer required to have all students proficient in Reading and Math by 2014. But new flexibility was exchanged for new policy.

No Child Left Behind was popular when implemented a decade ago because it demanded schools bring all students up to perform on grade level.  Today, for that same reason, many schools, districts and states are eager to come out from under NCLB, saying at this point it is impossible to bring all students up to par by the 2014 deadline..

Dr. Lynn House, Interim State Superintendent at the Mississippi Department of Education, says some parts of the law were ineffective.

“So the notion of flexibility is, okay states, this didn’t work,” says House. “We acknowledged it didn’t work. What are you going to do that is better than this?”

So Mississippi promised the US Department of Education it would instead implement rigorous national standards and a new system of teacher and principal evaluations. The state also proposed a new method of monitoring the state’s lowest performing students and a plan that would put on-the-ground support teams into schools that fail year after year.

But not everyone is convinced a waiver will lead to better outcomes for Mississippi students. Reforms will cost money and education spending keeps falling.  And critics question whether the US Department of Education is even empowered to grant waivers. Frederick Hess, an education scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, says the Obama administration is using waivers to pursue an agenda.

“It’s now using a back door approach to require states to require states to sign up for a bunch of administration priorities that are nowhere in the law, that have never been passed by Congress,” says Hess.

So Hess questions whether waivers would still stand if the Obama administration were voted out of office in this year’s presidential election.

But officials from the Mississippi Department of Education say all new policy has been vetted through legal channels and was open to public comment. And they say with a waiver comes an opportunity to craft local policy to turn around the country’s broken education system.

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