Tight and loose

Arne Duncan’s rewrite of No Child Left Behind wins praise from MikePetrilli of Fordham, who says Duncan has kept his promise to be “tight” about results expected while “loose” on means.

The ESEA blueprint released by the Obama Administration yesterday would represent, as Andy wrote, a dramatic change in the federal role in education – one that would be more targeted, less prescriptive, and use a lighter touch on the vast majority of America’s schools.

Adequate Yearly Progress is out along with the requirement to get 100 percent of students to proficiency by 2014. ”No more getting labelled a ‘failing school’  because some of your special ed students or English language learners failed the state test,” Petrilli writes.

Except for the very worst schools in the country–which would be subject to serious turnaround efforts–the rest would be freed from federally-mandated accountability. (The fastest-improving schools would actually get cash rewards and extra flexibility.) It does call for 100 percent of students to graduate from high school “college and career ready” by 2020, but that’s purely an aspirational goal; there are no consequences attached whatsoever. (The transparancy of annual testing and reporting would continue.)

The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal  are focusing on one part to love or hate, the blind men and the elephant, Petrilli writes.

The unions are complaining that the blueprint, in Randi Weingarten’s words, “places 100 percent of the responsibility on teachers and gives them zero percent of the authority.” John Kline, the ranking Republican on the House education committee, warns that the proposal doesn’t square with Obama’s promise of more flexibity for the states.

Petrilli sees it as a “huge victory” for the unions in getting most schools out of the threat of federal intervention. For suburban schools and their often Republican representatives, it’s also a good thing.

It’s a big setback for special ed and ELL advocates, because the failure of their clients would no longer send schools into a buzz saw of sanctions. The civil rights types, who earnestly believe Washington can fix all equity issues from on high, should be apoplectic.

Petrilli is happy about the plan’s reform realism: Common standards, lots more flexibility and ad admission that No Child’s sanctions “were a bust.”

Since I’m still on vacation — having witnessed Ladies’ Steer Undecorating at the wine country rodeo, we’re on our way to the Great Barrier Reef — I haven’t given the plan a close look. But I worry about the kids who weren’t doing well before No Child Left Behind.  They don’t all go to worst-of-the-worst schools.

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