WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is offering states a way around provisions of the once-heralded No Child Left Behind law, contending many elements of the Bush-era education initiative have become barriers to learning and that too many schools, even those showing modest progress, risk being labeled as failing.

States will be allowed to ask the Education Department to be exempted from some of the law’s requirements if they meet certain conditions. They include enacting standards to prepare students for college and careers and making teachers and principals more accountable.

President Obama planned to discuss the changes today at the White House.

“To help states, districts and schools that are ready to move forward with education reform, our administration will provide flexibility from the law in exchange for a real commitment to undertake change,” Obama said in a statement Thursday. “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.”

The administration says it is acting because Congress has been slow to address the issues by rewriting the law.

But Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., who chairs the House Education Committee, has questioned whether the Education Department has the authority to offer the waivers. He’s said that the president has allowed “an arbitrary timeline” to dictate when Congress should get the law rewritten and that the committee needs more time to develop its proposals, which it is doing.

Kline on Thursday called the administration’s plan a political move and said he cannot support a process that sets a dangerous precedent by granting the education secretary “sweeping authority to handpick winners and losers.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Thursday that the emphasis will be more on growth than on test scores.

“We can’t have a law on the books that’s slowing down progress, that’s slowing down innovation,” he said in Joplin, Mo., where the schools were left in ruins after a tornado last May.

The No Child Left Behind law passed in 2001 with widespread bipartisan support and much fanfare. It sought to hold schools more accountable for student performance and get better qualified teachers in classrooms. It also offers school choice and extra tutoring to students attending schools deemed failing.

Critics say the law created too much of an emphasis in classrooms on standardized tests, driving the stakes so high that it may have even fostered an environment where school officials in some districts opted to cheat. In particular, the requirement that all students be on grade level in math and reading by 2014 has been hugely unpopular.

Duncan has warned that 82 percent of schools next year could fail to reach proficiency requirements and thus be labeled “failures.”