Most states want waiver on U.S. education law

WASHINGTON Tue Nov 15, 2011 1:22pm EST

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WASHINGTON Nov 15 (Reuters) - A majority of U.S. states intend to opt out of the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind, and 11 have already made formal requests to take advantage of the waivers President Barack Obama offered in September, the Education Department said on Tuesday.

The waivers will allow states to set their own proficiency standards instead of those mandated by the Bush-era law. They will also have more flexibility in spending federal education money.

"We set a high bar and an aggressive deadline, but these states rose to the challenge," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. The 11 states are Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

Critics have said No Child Left Behind is inflexible, requiring teachers to adhere to a narrow curriculum targeted mostly at ensuring that every student pass standardized tests. They also say it has placed too large a burden on the states.

The Education Department will begin a peer review of the waiver requests after the Thanksgiving holiday and make the final decisions by mid-January. It said 39 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have all expressed interest in the waivers.

The law expired four years ago, and Congress has failed to agree on a new version. Meanwhile, Obama has been quietly revising federal education spending through grant programs such as "Race to the Top."

Obama and Duncan have promoted learning standards and testing, cornerstones of the contentious legislation passed by both parties in 2002 and championed by one of Obama's greatest political supporters, the late Senator Edward Kennedy.

But in September, Obama said that students could not wait for Congress to pass a new authorization and fix the law's "serious flaws."

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