So now we’ve come to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the mammoth 1965 education law that created Title I funding for high-poverty schools and, in its 2001 reauthorization, resulted in the controversial No Child Left Behind education policy.
U.S. Senate and House Hearings on clashing bills that would overhaul No Child Left Behind, replacing the current waiver system with a more coherent law. The debate between these dueling bills centers on the federal government’s role in America’s schools. No Child Left Behind dramatically increased that role, and now policymakers are trying to pull back — Republicans more than Democrats. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former U.S. education secretary who now serves as the Senate education committee’s ranking member, has taken to calling the administration a “national school board” because of its prescriptive role in managing schools.
NCLB is perhaps the major sticking point of this law’s reauthorization. The policy, created by President George W. Bush required “schools to show that all students are proficient on state standardized reading and math tests by 2014. Schools also must demonstrate yearly progress toward that goal or risk” punishment.
The problem is that it didn’t work out that way. All school will most certainly not be able to demonstrate that all students are proficient in reading and math by next year. The expectations under NCLB were so difficult that few states were making them, or were on track to make them.
And so the Obama administration started issuing waivers. Under the Obama waivers states could avoid the draconian sanctions of NCLA (under which schools were required to institute “corrective action” and restructuring plans) if they implanted various new education reforms.
The Obama reforms, known as Race to the Top, allowed states to avoid sanctions by starting “performance-based standards” to evaluate teachers and school administrators, complying with the Common Core State Standards Initiative (which bring state primary and secondary school curricula into alignment), and opening more charter schools.
Education secretary Arne Duncan announced earlier this week that he would now give states that have waivers from NCLB another year to implement sanctions related to failure to demonstrate sufficient student growth.
But wait, say many conservatives, this doesn’t make any sense. Resmovits:
”I couldn’t even make this stuff up,” Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), who chairs the House education committee, said in an interview Tuesday as he learned of Duncan’s announcement. “It underscores the problem with this conditional waiver thing. That’s why we need to fix the law now so that every state and every district and every school knows what the law is, instead of wondering what the secretary will do next.”
He’s got a point. If there’s a law that creates terms with which it is impossible to comply, enforcing that law by offering waivers is a little bizarre. This means the law doesn’t actually work.
None of this has anything do with whether or not Common Core is a good idea, but the waiver policy is sort of like if Obamacare had mandated that everyone in America had live to be at least 90, or face severe consequences. Then when the severe consequences rolled around, the administration would offer waivers only if states implemented plans to make everyone run 15 miles a day.
The new policy still wouldn’t get everyone living to be 90, and it wouldn’t necessarily make any more sense than the original utopian plan.