Forgive the people who run the nation’s public schools if they show a lack of patience when it comes to waiting for Congress to get its act together and rewrite No Child Left Behind. The school reform law is about to get chaotic and someone needs to do something soon.

We are only three years away from the date when 100 percent of American schools are supposed to be 100 percent proficient in English and math, which is a great goal but one that no state is likely to be able to achieve.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who called the NCLB deadlines a “slow-moving train wreck,” has tried to get Congress to update the law, but it has become part of a long list of issues that a dysfunctional Congress cannot find the time to address. Considering the seriousness of the consequences that come with being tagged as a failing school, the states are wise to start thinking about a “plan B.”

Some states are playing defense, openly dumbing down their assessments to make as many schools as possible appear to be meeting standards. A growing number of states, including Maine, are seeking waivers from the consequences of NCLB, something Duncan has said he is willing to do for states that are willing to commit to some reform principles.

They would include high standards for students, evaluation systems for teachers that reward the best, school choice that empowers parents and a plan to turn around the schools that fall behind. These were the same areas that Duncan’s department used to determine the winners in the competitive grant process called, “Race to the Top.”

Maine was not successful in that competition, but has since made headway and should have no trouble accepting a waiver in exchange for a commitment to continue working toward those goals.

This spring the Legislature passed charter school legislation, and several districts have included measures of student progress in the evaluation of teachers in collective bargaining agreements.

NCLB has received so much criticism, it’s worth noting what the law did right. By holding schools accountable for each individual cohort, it made it harder to hide low performance of disadvantaged students behind a screen of high scores elsewhere in the district. All schools were required to look at all their students and determine if they were making adequate progress.

But unfortunately the list of what is wrong with NCLB is much longer. The federal government never provided adequate resources for the states to meet the more ambitious goals. Schools became overly focused on certain test scores and dropped their focus on other important subjects like history and science to try to game the reading and math tests.

The federal government’s one-size-fits-all approach appeared to be designed with large urban school systems in mind and bore little relevance to rural states like Maine. For instance, one extreme sanction under the law would require firing the entire staff of a failing school and starting over, but there is no strategy in the law for finding several dozen certified teachers ready to come to a small town and teach those kids.

The waiver system, which would give states more flexibility to meet the federal government’s goals, is a step in the direction Congress should have been taking if it had been able to restructure the law. Maine’s educators should continue the work already started, creating new charter schools and developing teacher evaluation programs that take student performance into account.

That work should not have to wait for the warring parties in Congress to come together and take action.

States that are willing to take education reform seriously should get a waiver so they can focus on the work of improving their schools, whether Congress is ready to get serious about education or not.