OUR OPINION: Waiver grants Mississippi flexibility for improvement

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi last week joined a lengthening list of states seeking a waiver from some requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law, freeing them to chart their own paths to the goal of prepraring all students for college and career.
No Child Left Behind, developed at the urging of President George W. Bush and enacted by a bipartisan congressional majority, is the national framework for enhancing education achievement, and it has lofty goals, including proficiency deadlines set for 2014. A a majority of states – some states considered Democratic and some states considered Republican – say the goals cannot be reached by 2014, but they can be reached given additional time and flexibility in how they are reached within different states.
The waiver is not an exemption from higher achievement nor more demanding accountability; it is freedom to go beyond or diverge from NCLB in reaching the worthy goals. Mississippi and other states granted waivers remain under the law and its requirements, but in effect the federal government has provided a form of state’ rights for reaching the goals.
The law, signed by President Bush in 2002, has been due for renewal since 2007, but Congress, not surprisingly in the context of its disturbing propensity for argument without action, has not agreed on an extension.
Earlier, in explaining the waiver process, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, offered this assessment:
“(The president) is offering states flexibility from NCLB in exchange for comprehensive plans to raise standards; to create fair, flexible and focused accountability systems; and to improve systems for teacher and principal evaluation and support. This flexibility will not give states a pass on accountability. It will demand real reform.”
All the states contiguous to Mississippi except Alabama have sought waivers.
The goals in NLCB are set specifically in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a federal law that has been on the books since the mid-1960s.
The federal Department of Education said in fall 2011 that it was responding to demands of states for more control of the process in offering waivers:
• “These States are being honest with students and parents, and instead of an arbitrary (and often low) standard of proficiency, they’ve committed to setting an honest and necessary standard – college and career-ready.
• “States and districts are desperate for relief. They want the opportunity to innovate and develop locally tailored solutions to … challenges of every State, district, school and child.”
Those are familiar words in Mississippi.
Mississippi now has opportunity to succeed in reaching national goals in its own way.