Obama administration officials said today that they are moving forward with a program to grant states waivers from key provisions of the No Child Left Behind law, but only to those states “willing to embrace education reform” — meaning Obama-style education reform.

Melody Barnes, director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters on a conference call that NCLB was fundamentally flawed and that states were begging for relief because Congress had failed to fix it.

Still, as flawed as it is, they said that any relief will only go to states that accept the administration’s version of reform, which includes using standardized test scores to measure “student growth” for the purposes of evaluating schools and teachers.

“Every single state can” get a waiver, Barnes said. “But the bar will be high for flexibility to be granted and we are going to consistently insist on accountability. ... And those states that aren’t able to comply will have to continue to operate under No Child Left Behind.”

In some circles, that is known as strong-arming. Why not give waivers to any state that wants relief from a law the administration admits is flawed?

The most pressing issue facing states under No Child Left Behind, the key education initiative of former president George W. Bush’s administration, involves the “annual yearly progress” mandate that almost all students achieve proficient levels on math and reading standardized exams by 2014.

States were allowed to decide individually how to reach the goal, and almost half set easy targets early in the last decade. As the 2014 deadline approached, the goal became tougher to reach.

Duncan has said that the target is unattainable, and that more than 80 percent of America’s schools could be labeled failing by then if action is not taken. Today he said that some states face the possibility that 90 percent of their schools could be labeled failing “and that just doesn’t reflect reality.”

Barnes and Duncan said that details of the waiver program will be released next month, and that states should submit applications for review.

Duncan also said more than once that he does not support “overtesting” of students — “We don’t support that,” he said — but he did not explain what “overtesting” meant, nor did he say that he was changing any policy that has led to states adding tests for already test-saturated school schedules.

To assess teachers on student test scores, some states are planning to give students exams in every single subject. Would Duncan consider that overkill?

So while the administration moves to fix NCLB’s unattainable 2014 deadline, it continues to take steps to force its own education reform agenda on states — even while saying it isn’t. What a way to run education policy.

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