US President Barack Obama [official website] announced changes to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) [official website; JURIST news archive] on Friday, allowing states to opt-out of the program [video; transcript]. The new program [fact sheet, PDF; press release] gives states flexibility in how they design their curriculum, provides schools relief from the "failing" designation and provides increased flexibility in how education funding is distributed. If states choose to opt into the new flexible standards, they are required to adopt new standards to promote college and career readiness and "set basic guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation and support systems." In explaining why the changes to the NCLB were necessary, Obama stated:
And I want to say the goals behind No Child Left Behind were admirable, and President Bush deserves credit for that. Higher standards are the right goal. Accountability is the right goal. Closing the achievement gap is the right goal. And we've got to stay focused on those goals. But experience has taught us that, in its implementation, No Child Left Behind had some serious flaws that are hurting our children instead of helping them. Teachers too often are being forced to teach to the test. Subjects like history and science have been squeezed out. And in order to avoid having their schools labeled as failures, some states, perversely, have actually had to lower their standards in a race to the bottom instead of a Race to the Top. They don't want to get penalized? Let's make sure that the standards are so low that we're not going to be seen failing to meet them. That makes no sense.Some Republicans are questioning the president's ability to make such changes however. John Cline (R-MN) [official website], Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce [official website], questioned [press release] whether the Secretary of Education "has the authority to issue waivers of any statutory or regulatory requirement to state educational agencies and school districts." Obama stated that he is acting because Congress has failed to fix the NCLB and children can no longer afford to wait any longer.
In June 2010 the US Supreme Court [official website] denied a petition for certiorari [JURIST report] in Pontiac School District v. Duncan, which challenged whether the NCLB could impose requirements upon school districts without providing funding. As a result of the denial for certiorari, the case was dismissed. At the time, the Obama administration argued against granting certiorari [brief, PDF].