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Montana Reaches ‘No Child’ Compromise

More than 10 states have expressed interest in applying for No Child Left Behind exemptions.

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Yesterday, Montana reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to lower the yearly targets for math and reading stipulated by No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the law that requires students in the public education system to be “proficient” in reading and math.

The deal will allow the state’s schools to receive federal education funding, which was in jeopardy because many were expected to miss benchmark targets.

Obama and Duncan have spent much of the past 18 months asking Congress to revamp the law, which was authorized by President George W. Bush in 2001. The law has been up for renewal and an overhaul since 2007. In March 2011, Duncan said that up to 82 percent of all public schools could miss benchmarks set by the law, and that a new, more reasonable law needed to be implemented.

[Read an expert opinion on why No Child Left Behind should be rewritten.]

Last week, President Obama gave the Department of Education the go-ahead to allow states to apply for NCLB waivers, turning Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's threats to Congress into a reality.

Since the announcement, many states have contacted the administration to apply for waivers, which would allow states that focus on school reform to be exempt from meeting some of the law's test achievement requirements.

The Montana deal is not as comprehensive as an official waiver, and the state will not be required to accept any reforms, according to an official from State Superintendent Denise Juneau’s office.

[Learn about the Republican reaction to Obama's announcement.]

Last week, Duncan singled out Tennessee as a state that was making educational reform progress despite poor results on NCLB benchmarks. The state became one of the first to file its waiver application, but has not yet received Department of Education approval. Other states expressing early interest include Kansas, New Jersey, Missouri, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Nevada, and Georgia.

Dan Domench, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, told The Washington Times that he expects most states will eventually apply for a waiver.

Russ Whitehurst, senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, a think tank, wrote last week that there is "no question that schools are being over-identified by NCLB as requiring intervention," and that because Congress hasn't yet acted, it is "reasonable" for the Obama administration to offer waivers.

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Corrected on 8/16/11: An earlier version of this post misidentified Montana’s compromise with the Department of Education as an official waiver.