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updated 2/9/2012 7:02:09 AM ET 2012-02-09T12:02:09

President Barack Obama on Thursday will free 10 states from the strict and sweeping requirements of the No Child Left Behind law, giving leeway to states that promise to improve how they prepare and evaluate students, The Associated Press has learned.

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The first 10 states to receive the waivers are Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee. NBC News confirmed the report.

The only state that applied for the flexibility and did not get it, New Mexico, is working with the administration to get approval, a White House official told the AP.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the states had not yet been announced.

A total of 28 other states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have signaled that they, too, plan to seek waivers — a sign of just how vast the law's burdens have become as a big deadline nears.

Majority of states lining up to ditch No Child Left Behind

No Child Left Behind requires all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

Obama's action strips away that fundamental requirement for those approved for flexibility, provided they offer a viable plan instead.

Under the deal, the states must show they will prepare children for college and careers, set new targets for improving achievement among all students, reward the best performing schools and focus help on the ones doing the worst.

In September, Obama called President George W. Bush's most hyped domestic accomplishment an admirable but flawed effort that hurt students instead of helping them.

He said action was necessary because Congress failed to update the law despite widespread bipartisan agreement that it needs fixing. Republicans have charged that by granting waivers, Obama was overreaching his authority.

The executive action by Obama is one of his most prominent in an ongoing campaign to act on his own where Congress is rebuffing him.

No Child Left Behind was primarily designed to help the nation's poor and minority children and was passed a decade ago with widespread bipartisan support. It has been up for renewal since 2007.

But lawmakers have been stymied for years by competing priorities, disagreements over how much of a federal role there should be in schools and, in the recent Congress, partisan gridlock.

Video: Arne Duncan: Give schools flexibility to hit high bar (on this page)

For all the cheers that states may have about the changes, the move also reflects the sobering reality that the United States is not close to the law's original goal: getting children to grade level in reading and math.

Critics today say the 2014 deadline was unrealistic, the law is too rigid and led to teaching to the test, and too many schools feel they are labeled as "failures."

Under No Child Left Behind, schools that don't meet requirements for two years or longer face increasingly tough consequences, including busing children to higher-performing schools, offering tutoring and replacing staff.

More schools failing
As the deadline approaches, more schools are failing to meet requirements under the law, with nearly half not doing so last year, according to the Center on Education Policy.

Center officials said that's because some states today have harder tests or have high numbers of immigrant and low-income children, but it's also because the law requires states to raise the bar each year for how many children must pass the test.

In states granted a waiver, students will still be tested annually. But starting this fall, schools in those states will no longer face the same prescriptive actions spelled out under No Child Left Behind. A school's performance will also probably be labeled differently.

The pressure will probably still be on the lowest-performing schools in states granted a waiver, but mediocre schools that aren't failing will probably see the most changes because they will feel less pressure and have more flexibility in how they spend federal dollars, said Michael Petrilli, vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank.

While the president's action marks a change in education policy in America, the reach is limited. The populous states of Pennsylvania, Texas and California are among those that have not said they will seek a waiver, although they could still do so later.

On Tuesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said states without a waiver will be held to the standards of No Child Left Behind because "it's the law of the land."

Some conservatives viewed Obama's plan not as giving more flexibility to states, but as imposing his vision on them.

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., who chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee, said the president allowed "an arbitrary timeline" to dictate when Congress should get the law rewritten and set a dangerous precedent by granting the education secretary "sweeping authority to handpick winners and losers."

Duncan maintained this week that the administration "desperately" wants Congress to fix the law.

In an election year in a divided Congress, that appears unlikely to happen.

A Senate committee last fall passed a bipartisan bill to update the law, but it was opposed by the administration and did not go before the full Senate for a vote.

Kline released a draft of a Republican-written bill to update the law, earning the ire of California Rep. George Miller, the committee's ranking Democrat.

Miller said such partisanship "means the end" to No Child Left Behind reform in this Congress. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who chairs the Senate committee with jurisdiction over education, has said he believes it "would be difficult to find a path forward" without a bipartisan bill in the House.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Arne Duncan: Give schools flexibility to hit high bar

  1. Closed captioning of: Arne Duncan: Give schools flexibility to hit high bar

    >> us now, the secretary of education, arne duncan on our set.

    >> thanks for having me.

    >> and that was the president on changes to no child left behind . what specifically will the changes be?

    >> we basically want to get out of the way of the states. while the law has good intent, there are fatal flaws today. far too punitive. many ways to fail, no we wareward for success. our children need a narrow curriculum and we will fix those things and have a high bar . we have to give great teachers and educators room to move and can't keep beating down from washington . that's what will change.

    >> what changes will they make that you hope will change the overall negative impact of no child left behind .

    >> we encourage states to raise standards not dummy them down from no child left behind we regarding great teachers and principals and incentive to take on great assignments and make sure districts are turning around chronically under-performing schools dropping down 40, 50% of students. that's gone on too long. in exchange we will get out of their way and give them more room to move. the trade-off is a higher bar and give them flexibility to hit the higher bar.

    >> one of the headlines that came out of this, mr. secretary, you're eliminating a law that says children have to show performance in science and math by 2014 and that seems counselor intuitive to what we are trying to do.

    >> growth and gain and progress and how much better students are getting each year. if you're a great teacher and i come to your classroom three grade levels behind and leave your classroom one grade level behind. under current law, you're a failure and school labeled a failure. i don't think you're a failure. i had two years of growth for one year of instruction. we want to see how much every student and district is improving.

    >> you're not de-emphasizing math and science?

    >> far from it.

    >> let's hope not.

    >> how do you make sure she states are compliant measure up?

    >> they will have a high bar and apply for a waiver and flexibility. if they're dummying things down, we won't give them a waiver and prove we're serious about this. you have seen a huge amount of courage and innovation, 44 states raising standards and working together on next generation of assessments. the federal government has been an inhibitor and stopped the kind of innovation and progress we need. when i ran in chicago public schools , i had to come to washington and beg them to allow me to tutor 25,000 students after school. washington was trying to tell me i couldn't tutor my children after school. it was a huge battle and luckily, i won.

    >> get government out of the way. kind of sound like a republican.

    >> i think there are great teachers, great principals, great educators at the local level. we can't micro-manage 95,000 schools or 15,000 districts. great local educators know what their children and communities need. i travel around the country and see what they need every day. we want to support them.

    >> we're about 30 years from a nation at risk, the reagan era report how public schools were failing. when you look at this historically, was there a moment before '83, where you would point to, as a country, we were educating folks well, and what are the lessons from that moment, if there is one?

    >> it's really interesting. the reason i feel such a huge sense of urgency, today, we have many countries outeducating us. a generation ago we led the world in college graduates. we've not dropped, we flatlined but have 16 countries that passed us by, outeducating us, outinvesting us, and they will outcome pete us tomorrow. and we have to keep jobs in this count country. we are to push hard and look at ourselves in the mirror being critical. we have to get better faster than we have, not because we dropped, we got stagnated and other countries are doing a much better job than we have today and that's unacceptable.

    >> would you argue '50s and '60s because of the cold war investments and science and math?

    >> i think the sputnik moment created a sense of urgency and we're trying to create a sense of urgency now and things happening internationally pushed our country to go further faster. we have to regain that momentum and sense of urgency. it's an inner city issue, rural issue, across the country. our dropout rate is unacceptably high. we have to get that down to zero and make sure high school graduates are college and career ready. a huge emphasis on early childhood education , reform, record increases in pell grants . you can't just have access to college, it's about complete and attainment.

    >> i have a really good friend just laid off, laid off and now has to reapply for her job like so many teachers cross the country do. what do you say to her, someone who wants to teach, young person dying to get in the classroom and because of slash and burn at state houses may not have a job?

    >> it's brutally tough out there, talked to veteran educators teaching, this is the toughest i have ever seen and why the american jobs act is so important. $30 billion to save and restore teacher jobs and $30 billion to rehab schools around the country, so many buildings crumbling, roofs leaking, windows you can't see through and have to make sure teachers are in the classroom and not unemployment line. this is a significant investment and investment in education. we have to make that investment. other countries are doing it where we're seeing class sizes skyrocket and art and p.e. and music and other programs going away, that's not good for our children and the country. we have an opportunity and i desperately hope congress passes this bill.

    >> to rebuild our education system for the future is what you're talking about, that means children entering school this year and next year and years to come might have a chance to do better if you're even halfway successful. not to give you more problems to deal with but how are we accommodating the millions of young people who have dropped out of high school right now? this lost decade?

    >> it's hugely important they have an opportunity to come back to school. as you guys know, if you drop out today, if you don't have a minimum of high school degree , there are basically no good jobs, nothing in the legal economy.

    >> nothing.

    >> why high school programs are important and the economy, making a massive investment there hand folks 38 or 58 going back to retrain, retool, green energy jobs, technology, alternative settings, it can help people get back on their feet and the economy. as as people do that, i think the country will get back on its feet. a big investment in the community college .

    >> you're optimistic. we all have young children around this table. do you feel good about the future of exhibitions?

    >> my wife and i have a fourth grader and second grader. this is personal. we have to get much better. i am wildly optimistic. the hard work i see going around the countries extraordinary. we have to empower those great educators and encourage them to do more. if we as adults do our job, our children will more than meet us halfway.

    >> secretary arne duncan , good to see you again.

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