The Obama Administration has announced plans to provide relief from key provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) – the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – to those states and districts that choose to move forward with education reform. The decision is motivated by the lack of action by Congress on an ESEA reauthorization, which was due several years ago.

The decision was announced on August 8th by Melody Barnes, Director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House, and Education Secretary Duncan. The press announcement explains that NCLB is “forcing districts into one-size-fits-all solutions that just don’t work. The President understands this and he has directed us to move ahead in providing relief—but only for states and districts that are prepared to address our educational challenges.”

The Education department also released 5 Questions About NCLB Flexibility. Final details on ED’s NCLB flexibility are expected to be released in September.

What does this mean for students with disabilities?

While there is widespread agreement that NCLB has flaws that need fixing, the positive impact of the 2001 law on students with disabilities is undeniable. A report from the National Center for Learning Disabilities, Rewards and Roadblocks: How Special Education Students are Faring Under No Child Left Behind, determined that several of the new provisions incorporated into NCLB served to focus new attention on the academic performance of students with disabilities.

Exactly how the requirements of NCLB will be waived via ED’s “flexibility” process remains to be seen. Apparently ED will allow states to redefine adequate progress for students in various ways. If states are allowed to define adequate progress for students with disabilities  as something different or inferior to other students, much of the focus brought about by NCLB will be lost. Stay tuned.

Additional Information on NCLB Flexibility: 

June 12, 2011: ED Secretary Arne Duncan pens Op-Ed on Politico announcing his intent to develop a plan that trades regulatory flexibility for reform if Congress doesn’t reauthorize ESEA before the next school year begins.

June 17, 2011: Advocacy organizations send joint letter to ED Secretary Duncan regarding ED plan to provide regulatory relief and waivers of provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

June 23, 2011: Representative Kline, chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, sent a letter to Secretary Duncan questioning the Department’s legal authority to grant conditional ESEA waivers.

June 28, 2011: Congressional Research Service releases analysis of the Secretary of Education’s Waiver Authority regarding ESEA requirements.

July 6, 2011: ED Secretary Arne Duncan responds to Representative Kline’s June 23rd letter.