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Obama administration unveils changes to 'No Child Left Behind'

Given the two events currently dominating the news cycle –- the tragic loss of 30 service-members in Afghanistan and the historic downgrade of the nation’s credit rating –- you may have missed another important news story. 

On Monday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced a plan that will allow states to bypass the “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) law. Duncan appeared with Domestic Policy Director Melody Barnes at the daily White House Press briefing to explain the policy.

Duncan told reporters the plan will grant waivers to states allowing them to override the requirement that 100% of students be proficient in math and reading by 2014. “At a time when we have to get better, faster education than we ever have, we can’t afford to have the law of the land be one that has so many perverse incentives or disincentives to the kind of progress we want to see," Duncan said.

No Child Left Behind is the Bush-era education law that grades schools on a pass-fail scale, based on students’ performance on standardized tests. Those who support NCLB say it adds accountability to schools and teachers. But critics argue the law encourages instructors to teach to the standardized tests instead of teaching students to think critically. What's more, critics say, NCLB sets unrealistic achievement goals -- and even forces some poorly performing schools to close. 

Duncan also lashed out at Congress for not taking action to reform the education law. “Right now, Congress is pretty dysfunctional. They’re not getting stuff done. And this is something that’s long overdue.” Still, the move was not without its critics. 

According to a recent article in The New York Times, “Conservatives said it could inflame relations with Republicans in the House who want to reduce not expand, the federal footprint in education.” But Duncan insisted the waiver program has bipartisan support pointing to his conversations with nearly 30 governors of different parties who, he says, think the administration is on the right track.