The federal No Child Left Behind law has been in effect for nearly a decade, but it hasn't lived up to expectations. Based on many measurements of school quality other than the standardized tests used in NCLB, it appears the law has accomplished little or nothing.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced last week a new system to grant states waivers from complying with NCLB is being prepared. As long as states meet other, unspecified, school reform requirements, they will be permitted to forget about NCLB, Duncan said.
Duncan's announcement probably was heard enthusiastically by many educators and school administrators. For years, many of them have insisted tying large amounts of federal aid to how well students performed on standardized tests was unwise. The approach in effect forces many educators to "teach to the test," diverting valuable time from efforts that would help students more, critics said.
Still, advocates of NCLB when it was launched made a valid point: Some yardstick was needed to measure the effectiveness of schools and school districts. It seemed reasonable - and still does.
Again, however, requirements in NCLB do not seem to have been as beneficial as had been hoped.
As we pointed out before the law was enacted, some states seemed to be doing a good job in school reform on their own, without federal meddling. Clearly, Duncan should grant those states waivers - and refrain from substituting equally unproductive new regulations for those contained in NCLB.
At the same time, school administrators and educators should be held accountable. That needs to begin at the local and state levels. There, ways of measuring school effectiveness need to be devised - and school systems need to be held accountable for reform. Replacing NCLB with different, still unhelpful, federal red tape is not the answer.