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Secretary Duncan Takes Action on NCLB
posted by: Alix | August 08, 2011, 05:17 PM   

With the new school year fast approaching and the President Obama-backed deadline to overhaul No Child Left Behind expiring, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced plans today to issue accountability waivers to individual states in exchange for reforms. While the waiver plan has loomed over legislators in Congress all summer, the debt-ceiling fiasco took precedence over any meaningful progress on education. Now that legislators are home for August recess, it's clear that a congressional solution is at least months away.

Despite questions regarding Secretary Duncan's legal authority to do so, the Department of Education is now preparing to unilaterally override the centerpiece mandate of requiring 100 percent of students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014. While both sides of the debate admit that NCLB's original goal is not feasible, the waivers will see to it that NCLB's accountability provision is completely ignored in favor of department reforms.

In a briefing with the press, Duncan told reporters that he was acting because Congress had failed to overhaul the 2002 law, which he classified as a "slow-motion train wreck." Duncan told reporters that he will issue waivers only for states who have adopted their own testing and accountability programs and are instituting key reforms.

Director of President Obama's White House Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes echoed Secretary Duncan's sentiment saying that all states would be encouraged to apply for waivers from the law's accountability provisions, but that only states the administration believed were carrying out reforms would get them."This is not a pass on accountability," Barnes stressed. "There will be a high bar for states seeking flexibility within the law."

Without action, estimates from the Department of Education warn that 80,000 of the nation's 100,000 public schools will fall short of their test-scored targets, labeling them failures under NCLB requirements in 2012.

While the plan is apparently a last resort by the Obama administration, the move is considered the most sweeping use of executive authority to rewrite federal education law since the federal Department of Education was created.

When asked about the waiver plan, Congressman Kline (R-MN), chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce said in a statement, "I remain concerned that temporary measures instituted by the department, such as conditional waivers, could undermine efforts by Congress to rewrite the law."

Other experts assert that the waiver plan is not only an overreach by the administration but an excuse to expand their own reform agenda. Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute said "It sounds like they're trying to do a backdoor Round 3 of Race to the Top, and that's astonishing."

With the waiver plan officially in place, it's unclear which states will rush to exchange current federal mandates with new ones. While the plan promises to provide regulatory relief, the reforms tied to the "relief" will undoubtedly come with new mandates from Washington.

What are your thoughts on the waiver plans?
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