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Secretary Duncan’s Call to Action
posted by: Ruthie | June 14, 2011, 06:04 PM   

As the Obama administration counts down toward the summer deadline to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly referred to as No Child Left Behind, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is preparing to grant states regulatory relief from key provisions of the federal school accountability law in exchange for what he calls, "commitments to key reforms." While Duncan gave few details about what "relief" would actually entail, key congressional insiders warn that without action, Secretary Duncan could issue blanket waivers to states with no resolutions in sight.

While the administration has not issued exact requirements regarding the "reform for relief" trade-offs, the Department of Education has proposed options including giving states the ability to focus on student gains rather than absolute test scores via current growth models and the granting of more flexibility in the spending of Title I money designated for disadvantaged students.

Although Secretary Duncan's "relief" indicates a shift in tone, he claims he is not stepping away from accountability in schools. "We want to have a framework that, if we do give flexibility, [does not leave] nothing in its place," said Carmel Martin the Department's assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development.

Senator Tom Harkin, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, called Secretary Duncan's revised strategy "premature," saying, "The best way to fix problems in existing laws is to pass a better one. We are making good progress toward introducing a bill... given the bipartisan commitment in Congress to fixing NCLB, it seems premature at this point to take steps outside the legislative process that would address NCLB's problems in a temporary and piecemeal way."

Stakeholders cite that Secretary Duncan must make a distinction between whether relief will be granted through waivers or blanket regulations. "The U.S. Department of education must provide clear policy decisions, not case-by-case waivers," said Mary Broderick, the president of the National School Boards Association. The Washington-based Education Trust, also commented, saying that any relief must motivate states to make progress in boosting achievement of disadvantaged students. "While we believe target waivers in exchange for real movement on those issues is a good thing, regulatory relief would fit squarely in the 'cop-out' category," said Education Trust President Kati Haycock.

AAE' Executive Director Gary Beckner echoed the opinions of Education Trust and the reform-oriented organization Chiefs for Change who warn a blanket waiver will derail progress toward an ultimate solution for the nation's school children. "There is no quick fix to the problems faced by No Child Left Behind and a blanket waiver has the potential to halt meaningful progress toward creating a system that has worked in part for schools, teachers and students. AAE supports a timely approach to reauthorization that promotes flexibility first. Clearly a one-size-fits-all system does not work. While waivers may be necessary in certain rare circumstances, blanket waivers would erode overall accountability within school systems and potentially block student opportunity and outcomes."

While experts argue the merits of blanket waivers, all parties agree that something needs to be done. In the last few months, states like Kansas and Arkansas have asked the Department of Education for formal waivers of the 2014 deadline, citing regulation struggles. While these waivers were originally denied by the Department, with no action, the original requests could certainly be revisited.

In conjunction with Secretary Duncan's reform for relief warnings and proposals, Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Congressman John Kline issued his ideas via a Politico opinion editorial posted yesterday calling for increased flexibility and a reduced focus on Inside the Beltway mandates.

With all sides calling for action, it will only be a matter of time before progress is made on No Child Left Behind. The question still remains whether or not it will be come in a timely manner before the Obama administration takes it into their hands.

Do you think this debate will result in action?
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