Questions Raised About NCLB Proposed Waivers and Education Reform

 

In a June 20, 2011 online article Education Week reported that many states are cautiously waiting for more details about U.S. Department of Education (ED) Secretary Arne Duncan's proposal to waive key portions of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) if Congress fails to rewrite the Act by the beginning of the upcoming school year.  States are wondering what they will have to give up in order gain relief from NCLB's more onerous requirements such as the adequate yearly progress accountability system and 100% student proficiency in math and reading by 2014.  Secretary Duncan has made it clear that, while he is willing to offer some relief to states by waiving certain requirements, his waivers will require states to commit to his education reform priorities.  Education Week quotes him as saying "This is not an a la carte menu."
 
According to Education Week, some state officials have expressed concerns that Secretary Duncan's requirements may interfere with reform initiatives already underway in their respective states.  Some states are in the process of adopting the Common Core State Standards and others are re-vamping their accountability systems to better monitor and manage student and teacher performance. In addition, state legislatures across the country have made or plan to make sweeping changes in state laws aimed at reforming education, many focusing on changes in teacher accountability. For example, the Governor of Illinois recently signed legislation that dramatically changes how teachers earn tenure, how layoffs and dismissals may occur, and under what circumstances teachers will be allowed to strike. While focusing on teacher accountability, the Illinois legislation also allows for the recognition and celebration of effective teachers. The legislation has been praised by Secretary Duncan and the presidents of the two national teachers' unions.
 
Although recognizing the urgent need for education reform, the June 20th Education Week article reported that a local school district advocacy organization is against the ED Secretary's waiver proposal and is requesting that he, instead, "stop the clock" on NCLB sanctions to give Congress more time to complete the renewal of the Act. Several key Congressional representatives have expressed concerns about the Secretary's waiver proposal and some education experts question the legal authority to carry out the proposal. But ED maintains that under NCLB the Secretary has broad authority to waive requirements and the "authority to set reasonable conditions and limits on these waivers."

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