Duncan could waive No Child Left Behind

If Congress doesn’t update No Child Left Behind, Education Secretary Arne Duncan says he’ll waive key requirements “in exchange for states agreeing to adopt other efforts he has championed, such as linking teacher evaluations to student achievement, expanding charter schools and overhauling the lowest-performing schools,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

“Principals, superintendents and children cannot wait forever for the legislative process to work itself out,” Mr. Duncan said in a conference call with reporters. “As it exists now, No Child Left Behind is creating a slow-motion train wreck for children, parents and teachers.”

Revising the law, which requires states to test students in math and reading, was supposed to be this year’s bipartisan achievement. But leading Republicans want to reduce the federal government’s growing role in K-12 schools. Progress has been slow.

Both Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate education committee, and Rep. John Kline, Republican chairman of the House education committee, criticized Duncan’s threat to do an end run around Congress.

Update:  Duncan “is not permitted to remake federal law on the fly,” even if he thinks it’s a really good idea, writes Rick Hess.

After barely convincing Congress to keep Race to the Top on life support, Duncan is intent on unilaterally pushing his same pet priorities through the back door? He’s planning to offer regulatory relief only if states adopt reforms that are utterly absent in the relevant legislation? Facing backlash on the right and left over concerns that the administration coerced states to embrace test-driven teacher evaluation and the Common Core through Race to the Top, Duncan’s strategy is to double down?

Republicans won’t go along, Hess predicts. It’s not clear Democrats will either. Duncan’s favored ed reforms aren’t popular with the teachers’ unions, for example.

“Was the Constitution changed over the weekend abolishing the House of Representatives?” asks Charles Barone, director of federal policy for Democrats for Education Reform.

Waive the worst parts of NCLB, but “don’t try to tie this stuff to new, made-up mandates,” advises Mike Petrilli.

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  1. I applaud Duncan’s willingness to waive requirements, but his targeted efforts will still be inadequate. Neither he nor the politicians driving NCLB look beyond the superficial information of test data to determine the “health” of any state or school system. Education is not a manufacturing process, so the industrial model for improvement is inappropriate. We cannot demand that suppliers (parents) will supply products (students) according to desired quality standards standards.

    Until politicians allow educators the freedoms to teach as we’ve been taught and trained to do (i.e., consider developmental readiness skills rather than grade level as appropriate instructional guidelines), the results will remain the same. Firing teachers and/or administrators is counterproductive because they are trained at the same institutions as their replacements. Threatening teachers and administrators with the loss of their jobs increases stress levels and decreases effectiveness and morale. The ultimate cost is teacher burn-out and continued poor student achievement.

  2. Obviously, when you’ve set yourself standards and fail to live up to them, the only rational thing to do is lower the standards. What else could you possibly do?

  3. So in exchange for having your schools labelled, you can use reform practices which have been shown not to work? That doesn’t sound like a bargain to me.

  4. Rob,

    What you should have said was, when an impossible standard is set, in this case 100% proficiency, common sense would dictate a more reasonable standard.