A little more than 10 years after it was first signed into law, 10 states won approval from the U.S. Department of Education to bypass key components of the federal No Child Left Behind education law.

“This is good news for our kids; it’s good news for our country,” said President Barack Obama, announcing the waivers Thursday (February 9) at the White House.

Those states — Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee — will be free from some of the law’s requirements, most notably that all students achieve proficiency in math and reading by the 2013-14 school year. In exchange, states submitted plans for college and career-aligned standards, teacher and principal evaluation systems that included student achievement and a statewide system to track school performance and intervene in the poorest performing schools.

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Obama highlighted components from several of the state plans, including Tennessee’s creation of a statewide “Achievement District” that converts many of its poorest performing traditional public schools to charter schools.

“The best ideas aren’t going to just come from here in Washington,” the president said. “They’re going to come from cities and towns all across America.”

New Mexico was the only state that didn’t receive a waiver among the first 11 states that applied in November. Another 28 states and Washington, D.C. have indicated that they plan to apply by the end of the month.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that New Mexico’s application was the weakest among the first round of states but that his department is working with the state to improve it. “We think they’re very, very close,” he said.

Additionally, Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma were each granted their waivers conditionally. In letters to the states’ respective education chiefs, Duncan wrote that they needed to make more progress on aspects of their school accountability systems, among other changes.

Florida was criticized for not fully including students with disabilities and those learning English in its school performance system.

Advocates of minority students and students with disabilities have expressed some concern that the new waiver system could downplay reporting of such students that was a component of No Child Left Behind. “It’s viewed as difficult to include students with disabilities appropriately, because their needs are unique and individualized,” said Lindsay Jones, senior director for policy and advocacy at the Council for Exceptional Children. “But it can be done, and we believe that states are committed to it.”

The Obama administration introduced the waiver plan, in part, due to frustration with the lack of progress in Congress on an overhaul of the education law. The waiver approvals were announced the same day Representative John Kline, Republican chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, introduced a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Law that would drastically reduce the role of the federal government in monitoring education. Kline, from Minnesota, previously labeled the waivers “a political move that could have a damaging impact on congressional efforts,” according to Education Week.

Stateline.org is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Center on the States that reports and analyzes trends in state policy.

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