President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan would do well to listen to Daniel Domenech on the subject of issuing states waivers from key provisions of No Child Left Behind.

Obama is expected to announce on Friday the details of his plan to issue the waivers, according to this story by my colleague, Lyndsey Layton.

Last month administration officials announced that because of the failure of Congress to rewrite and fix the flawed law, passed and implemented during the administration of president George W. Bush, it would take unilateral action by freeing states from complying with some of NCLB’s most burdensome requirements. Though there are critics arguing the administration doesn’t have the authority to act, it’s going to do it anyway.

But there is a catch.

States have been begging Washington to relieve them of the most onerous of NCLB’s provisions, Adequate Yearly Progress, a measure that requires public schools to ensure that nearly all of their students score as proficient on standardized tests in reading and math by 2014. Failing to reach sub-goals toward that end results in punitive measures that require schools to be restructured in one of several models. As the 2014 goal has approached, the number of schools in danger of failing has shot up.

Administration officials have said repeatly that Adequate Yearly Progress is a broken accountability mechanism. But still, waivers, they said, will only go to states that accept the administration’s vision of reform, seen in its $4.3 billion Race to the Top education funding competition. Race to the Top awarded states federal funds for agreeing to, among other things, expand the number of public charter schools and use standardized test scores to measure “student growth” for the purposes of evaluating schools and teachers.

U.S. legislators have talked for years about rewriting No Child Left Behind — but haven’t.

The first of five bills that Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, plans to change NCLB passed in the House last week 365 to 54 with bipartisan support. It was the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act , designed to support the creation and replication of high-quality charter schools.

The fact that that was the first bill the House took up and passed underscores just how bipartisan charters have become under the Obama administration and how important they are to the vision of public education reformers.

Domenech, a former superintendent of the Fairfax County Public School system, is executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. Layton quoted Domenech as saying that Duncan, as secretary of education, is “acting as the superintendent for the country.”

That means that all states should receive waivers — without strings.

Domenech’s organization, along with the National School Board Association, sent a joint letter to Duncan last month. It said in part:

State and local education agencies are not at all responsible for reauthorizing the federal statute, and as such should not have to jump through hoops to get relief from specific provisions widely recognized as broken and in need of improvement. We find the conditional nature of the waivers counterintuitive to the promise about getting relief to the nation’s schools, and believe that our proposal is a much more direct and efficient way of both providing schools relief and keeping the pressure on Congress to finish their reauthorization work.

If the administration believes it has the power to relieve states of NCLB mandates without congressional input, why not do it without favor?


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