In exchange for receiving a waiver, states must present plans for meeting several goals—such as developing teacher and principal evaluation systems linked to student performance.

When New Jersey applied to the federal government for a waiver from the No Child Left Behind law, Gov. Chris Christie used the opportunity to tout elements of his education reform agenda that had been languishing in the state legislature for months.

“For a new accountability system to be effective and successful in benefiting children, we must have all of the tools that are provided for in this legislation,” the Republican governor said in a statement released Nov. 16. “It’s time for the New Jersey legislature to step up with my administration, President Barack Obama, (Education) Secretary (Arne) Duncan, and a national, bipartisan movement to act boldly and give every child the education they deserve.”

The legislation Christie was referring to includes several bills. One would tie decisions about teacher tenure and pay to student performance on standardized tests. Others would authorize more charter schools and allow the state’s lowest-performing schools to convert into charters.

New Jersey is among 11 states that recently applied for a waiver from the nearly 10-year-old federal education law. An additional 28 say they plan to apply for waivers in a second round next year. If approved by the U.S. Department of Education, those states will be exempt from some requirements of No Child Left Behind. Most notably, they would be relieved from having to show all students achieving proficiency in reading and math by the 2013-14 school year.

In exchange for receiving a waiver, the states must present plans for meeting several goals. They include developing academic standards that prepare students for college or a vocation; creating statewide measures of student performance and plans for reforming schools that don’t meet them; and developing teacher and principal evaluation systems linked to student performance.

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This isn’t the first time the Obama administration has tried to entice states into making significant changes in education policy. Obama’s Race to the Top competition awarded 10 states and Washington, D.C., money from a $4 billion pool for their plans to implement some of the same changes outlined in the waiver requirements. The offer of exempting states from what many see as the most onerous pieces of NCLB represents a new carrot—albeit one that comes without money.

The tight deadlines—the next one is in February—have states scrambling to make major decisions about the future of education in just a matter of months.