With nearly half the state’s schools failing to meet federal education standards in results released Friday, Gov. Bill Haslam asked the Obama administration to waive the law’s requirements for Tennessee.
Haslam said the escalating standards under the federal No Child Left Behind law are impossible to meet and predicted an overwhelming majority of Tennessee schools would fail in the future.
“It’s like telling a lot of us, ‘You need to swim from California to Hawaii tomorrow,’ ” the governor said. “Well, none of us are going to make it. That’s not a good standard. Give us a way that we can show that we’re making real progress.”
Haslam said he is asking U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to let Tennessee replace the federal measures with ones the state government set.
“I want to be very clear about this point,” the governor told reporters. “Applying for a waiver is not about making excuses in Tennessee. It’s actually about just the opposite. We’re making significant progress in education.”
Tennessee is “capable of … measuring ourselves in a rigorous way,” he said.
President Obama has asked Congress to overhaul the decade-old No Child Left Behind law, but Haslam pointed out “indications out of Washington are that doesn’t seem likely anytime soon.”
Duncan has said he anticipates more than 80 percent of schools nationwide will fail to meet the requirements by 2014. Duncan proposed granting waivers to states. At least one other state — Kentucky — has asked for a waiver so far, and many more are considering it.
In order to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) under the law, schools must satisfy ever-increasing performance targets. More than 800 of Tennessee’s 1,700 schools failed to meet the standards this year. But Haslam pointed out 80 percent of those failing schools still made improvements in either math or reading test scores.
“We want to be held accountable for results,” state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said. “In my belief, we should be looking at school district trajectories. Most schools and districts that failed to meet AYP this year actually improved their results and in some cases quite significantly. From my perspective, we should hold school districts in the state for improving student performance. AYP is not a gauge of that anymore.
“If we do not get a waiver … we will be back here in a year announcing that the vast majority of schools in the state failed to meet AYP,” Huffman added. “We could grow student achievement levels by 5 percent, by 10 percent across the board and that would still be true. This is now a distraction from the real work of education reform in this state, which is why we’ve requested this waiver.”