U.S. gives Mass. waiver from No Child Left Behind

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President Barack Obama’s decision to free Massachusetts from some  requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law was a vote of confidence  for a system the state designed to assess the performance of public schools, top  state education officials said Thursday.

Massachusetts on Thursday was among the first 10 states to be granted  waivers from the 2002 law, which set a goal of having all children proficient in  reading and math by 2014.

“This is really a case where perfect has become the enemy of good,” said  Mitchell Chester, commissioner of the state Department of Elementary and  Secondary Education.

Under the federal measuring stick for No Child Left Behind, known as  Adequate Yearly Progress, about 80 percent of Massachusetts schools and 90  percent of school districts were deemed as failing last year.

“That just flies in the face of common sense, and it is not useful at all,” Chester said. “It invites cynicism, and it doesn’t help us distinguish between  schools that are on the move and schools that are stuck.”

Massachusetts officials, in their application to the U.S. Department of  Education for a waiver, pointed to their five-tiered assessment plan for schools  and school districts, with level one being the strongest and level five the  weakest.

Chester said most schools place in the top two tiers. The state recently  took control of the public schools in Lawrence, a city about 25 miles north of  Boston, after it was deemed a level five underperforming district.

Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick’s education secretary, Paul Reville, said the  No Child Left Behind waivers show a realization that the 2002 law was “deeply  flawed.”

“It’s not that everything is bad,” Reville said. “There are some very strong  features, but (the law) needed reworking.”

The law, championed by the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., passed  Congress with bipartisan support and was signed by President George W. Bush, a  Republican. It has been up for renewal in Congress since 2007, but lawmakers  have been unable to agree on the fix.

Jim Stergios, executive director of the Pioneer Institute, a  conservative-leaning Boston-based think tank, said he worried the waivers signal  a sense of urgency in the nation about education accountability.

“2014 was supposed to be the year that no child was left behind,” he said. “Now it’s been moved, back and we don’t have a clear sense of when that hard  date … will be set. It could be five years out, 10 years out, but we have  actually let up a lot of the urgency.”

Stergios also was critical of the Department of Education for granting  waivers from the law without congressional authorization.

“Sending out waivers with conditions that have not been approved by  Congress,” he said, “is totally new and breaks a sense of trust with  Congress.”

Also seen in Telegram.com and The Herald News