No Child Left Behind Education Policy Hangs On

By Hawkins, Beth | MinnPost.com, August 9, 2013 | Go to article overview

No Child Left Behind Education Policy Hangs On


Hawkins, Beth, MinnPost.com


To education policymakers who are not breathing the politicized air trapped inside the Washington, D.C., beltway, it's starting to look like President Obama will be out of office before No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is rewritten -- if ever.

Expressed another way, that would mean the nation could go a minimum of a full decade with no clearly articulated, guiding education policy. NCLB would remain the law of the land, but at least the 39 states, the District of Columbia and the eight California school districts so far granted waivers from compliance can ignore it.

Is this good news, or bad? That depends on who's asking.

The stalemate does nothing to endear the Congressional leaders on either side of the aisle to their gridlock-weary constituents, or to codify a policy roadmap. And it would leave Obama and his secretary of education, Arne Duncan, with a less-than-glamorous legacy to extoll.

Nor does the term "waiver" communicate either a cohesive vision or a sense of urgency about the number of schools that are failing to reach disadvantaged kids. And charter schools will not receive as much expansion assistance as they would have under a bill passed by the House of Representatives last month but destined for a veto.

In practice, however, the waivers do represent the administration's vision. And because they are given to states and districts that commit to plans of their own devising, Minnesota's education establishment can operate within accountability measures that give them badly needed flexibility.

The question mark being Obama's successor. If he or she is able to shake things loose in Congress, the negotiations necessary to craft a renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the law typically referred to as NCLB, could end up mandating a different system than the ones painstakingly constructed over the last two years.

And so even as members of both parties in Congress are making noise about their commitment to passing an overhaul, Duncan appears to have hit the cruise control.

In Minnesota three weeks ago to promote an early childhood education proposal, Duncan was remarkably thin on details how his proposal -- released as the House passed a GOP-crafted NCLB rewrite - - would be implemented.

In a lengthy interview published earlier this week in Education Week, the secretary waved off suggestions that a recently revealed school evaluation scandal involving Indiana's substitute accountability system was cause for concern. Duncan insisted that the system had worked, even though it was the Associated Press that found that a former state superintendent had inflated ratings for a political patron's charter school.

In Minneapolis last week for a conference, Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, said she thought a call to action by the president, followed by the expenditure of some of his political capital, could break the logjam.

Kline's proposal

When Republican Rep. John Kline took over the House's powerful Education and the Workforce Committee in 2010, he and Duncan seemed to share a surprising number of common goals regarding schools. Both favored the expansion of the charter sector, for example, as well as use of student data in teacher evaluations.

Kline did not, however, like the idea of continuing to fund the Obama administration's stimulus spending -- the marquee education initiative of its first term. …

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