Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has accused the White House of violating the constitutional separation of powers. And Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former education secretary, filed a bill to restrict Duncan’s ability to issue waivers.
“He’s acting as the superintendent for the country,” said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, which wants Duncan to issue waivers to every state without strings attached.
While the conditions for waivers won’t be spelled out until Friday, Duncan has said he wants states to adopt academic standards that will prepare high school graduates for jobs and college; measure teacher performance in part by how much students grow during the year; and make “robust” use of data to track learning, among other things. Historically, the federal government has left such decisions to states and local communities.
“It’s a very clever way to manage a political crisis that is not of his or the president’s making,” said Chris Cerf, acting schools commissioner under New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). His state intends to apply for a waiver.
A number of states are already in sync with the administration’s goals.
“I support the idea of waivers, because we think the way to assess a school is not solely through testing and proficiency,” said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who met with Duncan at a Milwaukee school two weeks ago. “Overall, the reforms [Duncan] is looking at are really similar to what I’m looking at. What he’s saying makes sense. We would be moving toward these changes even if the waivers came without conditions.”
In the Washington area, Virginia intends to seek a waiver, while officials in Maryland and the District want to see the conditions first.
When Congress passed No Child Left Behind in 2001, it marked a bipartisan effort to hold schools accountable to parents and taxpayers and a federal commitment to attack student achievement gaps.
For the first time, the law required schools to test all children in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school and report results by subgroups — including race, English learners and students with disabilities — so it was clear how every student was faring.
The law required states to set goals for improvement and make steady progress toward them, including the expectation that all students tested show proficiency in math and reading by 2014. Advocates of the law say it provides plenty of leeway for schools to meet annual goals.