Colorado scores No Child Left Behind waiver

Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall today applauded the Obama administration decision to grant Colorado schools a waiver from the regulatory requirements of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law. A former superintendent of the Denver Public School system, Bennet has long railed against the law as well-intended but comically flawed, the “biggest federal overreach ever in domestic policy,” he said in a Senate floor speech last year.

“As a former superintendent who has been on the receiving end of No Child Left Behind, I know that well-intentioned ideas from Washington often do not make sense once they reach the classroom,” Bennet said today in a release. “In a system where kids living in poverty face a 9 in 100 chance of graduating from a four-year college, parents, children and educators aren’t concerned with where a fix comes from. They just want the problem solved, and unfortunately, dysfunction in Washington has held up a fix in Congress.

“Now, Colorado has received relief from many of the one-size-fits-all elements of No Child Left Behind that disempower the people who are closest to our kids. This exemption will remove bureaucratic barriers to innovation and reform and allow Colorado to focus on what matters: improving outcomes for kids.”

Obama is granting waivers to ten states– Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee. The administration is working with New Mexico to help it meet the requirements for the waiver and nearly 30 additional states are applying for the same exemption.

A signature domestic policy of the Bush years, No Child Left Behind requires all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Educators have long felt the policy a draconian and ill-considered attempt to boost student performance by holding teachers to inflexible one-size-fits-all benchmarks. The effect, critics say, is that instructors simply “teach to the test” instead of taking a more organic approach to the way children learn.

“The goals of No Child Left Behind were laudable, but it has suffered from poor implementation and has been loaded with burdensome one-size-fits-all standards, making it difficult for our children to succeed in the 21st century,” said Udall in a prepared statement. “I’ll continue to work with my colleagues to improve the law, but until that happens, I’m glad the administration has recognized the reality that Colorado has developed a better way to hold kids and teachers accountable through its nationally recognized growth model. As the author of a bill that would build on that model nationally, I appreciate the administration’s decision today. And I’m proud Coloradans will be able to continue our efforts without being held back by onerous federal government standards.”

States receiving waivers must set new targets for improving achievement, reward schools making the best progress and aid schools that are struggling most.

Bennet has aimed at reforming No Child Left Behind almost since the day he arrived in the Senate. He helped write the Growth to Excellence Act meant to remake the controversial policy and made news last fall with an impassioned floor speech excoriating his colleagues for stalling action on the bill, which is still in committee.

“You know why people are fed up with this place?” he said. “It’s because they don’t think the debate we’re having is about them. They think the debate we’re having is about us. And they’re right about that…

“The teachers all across this state want us to lift this burden from them, in my view the biggest federal overreach ever in domestic policy. That’s what this bill does, not for ideological reasons, but to respond to the voices of our teachers, respond to the voices of our superintendents.

“[The bill] responds to the voices of our parents who are sick and tired of the almost comical but to them painful measures of annual progress, the idea that we’re going to label all of our schools failing by 2014 because we have a completely made up accountability system in Washington DC. This bill does away with that!”

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