Duncan waives NCLB

With Congress stalled on revising No Child Left Behind, Education Secretary Arne Duncan will do it himself. Duncan will waive NCLB requirements, such as achieving 100 percent proficiency by 2014, if states adopt Duncan-approved school reforms. It’s a huge expansion of executive power, notes the New York Times.

Under the current law, every school is given the equivalent of a pass-fail report card each year, an evaluation that administration officials say fails to differentiate among chaotic schools in chronic failure, schools that are helping low-scoring students improve, and high-performing suburban schools that nonetheless appear to be neglecting some low-scoring students.

Expect suburban schools to get a pass, even if minority or low-income subgroups do poorly.

To receive a waiver, states must adopt “college- and career-ready” standards (just Common Core Standards?), work to improve teacher effectiveness, develop evaluation systems based on student test scores and other measures, turn around the lowest-performing schools and adopt  accountability systems to replace No Child’s pass-fail system.

“It sounds like they’re trying to do a backdoor Round 3 of Race to the Top, and that’s astonishing,” said Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute. He called Mr. Duncan’s plan “a dramatically broad reading of executive authority.”

If Republicans take the White House in the next election, the administration’s power play will set a dangerous precedent, adds Hess.

NCLB identifies too many schools as needing intervention, writes Russ Whitehurst at Brookings. Duncan should waive impossible goals — but not abuse the waiver authority to make federal law.

It is one thing for an administration to grant waivers to states to respond to unrealistic conditions on the ground or to allow experimentation and innovation. Similar waiver authority has been used to advance welfare and Medicaid reform going back to the Reagan administration, and to allow a few districts and states to experiment at the margins of NCLB in the Bush administration. It is quite another thing to grant state waivers conditional on compliance with a particular reform agenda that is dramatically different from existing law.

Duncan will create a backlash against Common Core Standards, if he forces all states to adopt them, writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper.

Politics K-12 has a round-up of reactions. States are very eager to get out from under NCLB’s expectations, but not so eager to sign up for the administration’s version of education reform.

About Joanne


  1. From the very start we knew that it was just a matter of time before NCLB collapsed.

    The goals weren’t just ambitious, they were laughably impossible.

    But the major news here is the abuse of power.

    Obama needs to order the waiver reversed or demand Duncan’s resignation.


  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    I don’t doubt schools want out from NCLB. Either you admit the impossibility of educating certain minority groups up to a minimal standard–which would be racist–or you hide their failings by averaging everybody’s scores.
    Pick one.
    Or you could figure out a way to educate certain minority groups up to a minimal standard.
    No? Okay. Back to the first paragraph.
    So how many kids’ education has been improved by the fed dept of ed?

  3. The goals weren’t just ambitious, they were laughably impossible.

    Whereas no goals at all are just right.

  4. Because cabinet departments can just waive acts of Congress when they feel like it. Gee, this balance of power between legislative and executive branches stuff is really working well these days, isn’t it?