Gerson: The quiet overturn of No Child Left Behind
Published for The Washington Post, July 20th, 2012
The Obama administration is increasingly becoming known not for its legislative achievements but for its federal waivers to legislative achievements. It has exempted favored groups from immigration laws, welfare-reform work requirements, even provisions of the Affordable Care Act (more than 1,300 businesses and unions have been given a reprieve from health-care coverage rules).
The boldest use of the waiver power, however, has come on the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). More than half of the states have been granted exemptions from the law’s requirement that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014. When a law’s provisions are ignored in a majority of cases, it can properly be considered overturned.
In this instance, the overturning has not provoked much controversy. The political constituency for NCLB was always limited. Many conservatives reject any federal role in education. The educational establishment has been in a decade-long revolt against NCLB’s onerous performance requirements and obsessive focus on test results. Right and left — Republican governors and teachers unions — have found rare ideological agreement on educational federalism.
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