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President Obama says he will grant waivers from No Child Left Behind requirements

States will be granted exemptions in exchange for certain commitments

No Child Left Behind was signed into law by President George W. Bush a decade ago

Washington CNN —  

President Barack Obama announced Friday that states will be allowed to opt out of certain requirements imposed by the controversial No Child Left Behind law, the landmark education reform initiative passed with broad bipartisan support a decade ago.

The administration will immediately begin reviewing state applications to waive various demands imposed by the law in return for credible commitments to close lingering achievement gaps.

“Higher standards are the right goal. Accountability is the right goal. Closing the achievement gap is the right goal,” Obama said at the White House. “But experience has taught us that in its implementation, No Child Left Behind has some serious flaws.”

Among other things, the law, which passed 2001, requires public schools to meet targets aimed at making all students proficient in reading and math by 2014 or face stiff penalties. The Department of Education has predicted that, without waivers, up to 82% of the nation’s schools could miss that target and end up facing penalties including the loss of federal education dollars.

Obama blasted Congress for failing to change the law, a failure that forced the administration to act on its own, the president said.

“We can’t afford to wait for an education system that isn’t doing everything it should for our kids,” Obama said. “We’ve got to act now and harness all the good ideas coming out of our states (and) coming out of our schools.”

A senior administration official speaking to reporters on a conference call Thursday said the law “is hurting children by denying the children most at risk the resources they really need.”

Under Obama’s reforms, states will be encouraged to enact accountability standards that don’t treat all schools the same.

Specifically, schools will have to implement new teacher and principal accountability standards. Local districts will have to set basic guidelines to evaluate a teacher’s performance based on a number of factors, not simply student performance.

“The purpose is not to give states and districts a reprieve from accountability, but rather to unleash energy to improve our schools at the local level,” Obama said in a separate statement released by the White House.

One of the major criticisms of the current No Child Left Behind guidelines is that it encouraged schools to lower standards rather than improve. The new guidelines “should reduce the pressure to teach the test and the narrowing of the curriculum,” one administration official said.

Six months ago, the administration sent Congress its plan to revamp No Child Left Behind. That legislation, however, has stalled.

The administration insists it hasn’t enacted the new changes alone. Instead, it has reached out and received input from 45 states that helped develop the new guidelines for opting out of No Child Left Behind standards. In addition, senior administration officials told reporters that 44 states and the District of Columbia are working to adopt a common set of state-developed college and career-ready standards.

Some critics fear the new guidelines will ultimately give the federal government an even larger role in states’ education decisions. Administration officials deny the accusation, instead maintaining that the new guidelines will actually give states more flexibility, including how to spend 20% of their Title I money, which funds low-income education and can account for as much as a billion dollars nationwide.

Currently, No Child Left Behind requires states spend that portion of federal education dollars on tutoring.

The administration says many states and school districts are already moving toward the new guidelines. States can file a request for a waiver from the requirements by mid-November and the waivers could be granted in early 2012.

CNN’s Lesa Jansen and Alan Silverleib contributed to this report