WASHINGTON - Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced Monday three more states would join the ranks of those given permission to ignore parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law in favor of their own school improvement plans.
The addition of Alaska, Hawaii and West Virginia brings to 37 the number of states operating outside the Bush-era law, along with the District of Columbia. Eight additional states, the Bureau of Indian Education, Puerto Rico and a coalition of California districts are waiting to hear about their requests, which would further dismantle the federal education overhaul from coast to coast.
"Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia can't wait any longer for education reform," Duncan said in a statement.
No Child Left Behind, also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, came up for renewal in 2007 and its requirements were not updated. Duncan has pushed lawmakers to revisit the law and make changes to accommodate challenges officials did not anticipate when they first passed the measure on a bipartisan basis in 2001.
"A strong, bipartisan reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act remains the best path forward in education reform, but as these states have demonstrated, our kids can't wait any longer for Congress to act," Duncan said.
In exchange for the waivers, states have had to show the Education Department they had their own plans to prepare students and improve teaching. States have sought the additional flexibility to implement their own efforts instead of following the sometimes rigid requirements included in No Child Left Behind.
"It essentially, removes some of the restrictions that were a part of No Child left Behind act," said Wood County Schools Superintendent Pat Law. "They were counter productive to what ended up taking place."
The waivers also allow states to come up short on requirements that all students perform at grade level in math and reading by 2014.
Law said the waiver is a good thing for kids.
"It should help us focus resources where we feel like they need to be best used. We are pleased this has finally come through."
With the waiver Law said there will be stronger opportunities for more focused curriculum.
If Congress were to update No Child Left Behind, the states would be forced to shift to the new national standards - potentially a headache for states that already have set forth on their own individualized plans.
In West Virginia, the state will back off the old system, where schools either did or did not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). The state is putting together a system with different levels; priority, support, focus, transition and success schools, Law said.
Education officials have already flagged 32 schools across the state as "priority schools," meaning they have persistently low test scores and will receive "extra resources and funds to improve," according to state Superintendent Jim Phares.
Those announcements will be coming out from the state later this week.