New Jersey is one of ten states that received a waiver from the No Child Left Behind education law on Thursday. President Barack Obama says his decision will give the 10 states the flexibility needed to set high standards for students and hold schools accountable.
Speaking at the White House, Obama said states need to ensure that "every student should have the same opportunity to reach their potential." He added the states are getting leeway in exchange for promises to improve the way schools teach and evaluate students.
Critics of the law argue it relies too heavily on test scores. The waivers are also tacit acknowledgment that the law's main goal — to get students up to par in math and reading by 2014 — is not within reach.
Governor Chris Christie said the waiver is validation for the state's bold, common sense, bipartisan approach to education reform. "This is not about Democrats or Republicans - it is about pursuing an agenda in the best interest of our children whose educational needs are not being met, and those who are getting a decent education but deserve a great one,” the governor said in a statement.
New Jersey schools will no longer be subject to NCLB accountability provisions or sanctions for not making the Adequately Yearly Progress. The state's Department of Education, instead, will develop a new accountability system based on growth made in a given year.
"There is no single solution to turn around chronically failing schools or close the achievement gap. So, it is critical that the Legislature join me, standing alongside President Obama and Secretary Duncan, in providing the comprehensive set of tools needed to give every children in every part of our state the opportunity and hope that only comes with a quality education,” concluded Governor Christie.
New Jersey applied for the waiver in November, including a package of four reform bills as part of its waiver application.
Dawn Hiltner, with the New Jersey Education Association, agrees that the waiver will give the state more flexibility. "The No Child Left Behind law didn't take into account that students have different needs and different abilities. Students that did not have English as their first language, or students with severe disabilities and special needs were expected to perform as high as their, you know, as their peers in their grade, as their age-level peers," she said. Still, she does have some concerns about the some of the proposals included in the waiver application.
The president said he acted because Congress failed to update the law, despite agreement that it needs to be fixed.
Other states to receive the waiver included Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
Only one state did not receive the waiver, that was New Mexico. The state is working with the administration to get approval. A total of 28 others states have signaled that they may seek waivers.
With reporting from Annmarie Fertoli