Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Duncan may grant No Child Left Behind waivers if Congress doesn't change law before school starts

As schools await Congress's rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act, Education Secretary Arne Duncan "is preparing to grant states relief from key provisions of the federal school accountability law in exchange for what he calls 'commitments to key reforms'," Michele McNeil reports for Education Week. Duncan's announcement came during a June 10 call with reporters in response to Congress' lack of action and a growing fear of schools' abilities to meet the 2014 deadline for proficiency in reading and math.

Though the details of Duncan's plans are unclear, he did say "he'd like to give states the ability to focus on student gains rather than absolute test scores . . . and he'd like to grant more flexibility in how Title I money for disadvantages students is spent," McNeil reports. The relief would primarily be waivers, Duncan spokesman Justin Hamilton told McNeil. "Unlike the Race to the Top, which allowed states to devise their own education improvement plans, the department would present states with a basket of strategies they would have to adopt in exchange for relief," he added. (Read more)

Duncan said his administration will start reaching out to governors, state school commissioners, and other leaders to discuss possible waivers and identify the most serious obstacles schools face and what improvements could be executed in exchange for waivers, Sam Dillon of The New York Times reports.

The announcement got mixed reactions. Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said, "Given the bipartisan commitment in Congress to fixing No Child Left Behind, it seems premature at this point to take steps outside the legislative process that would address NCLB's problems in a temporary and piecemeal way." But Diane DeBacker, commissioner of education in Kansas, which was denied a waiver in February, told Dillon, "I'm pleased that there is an option for a Plan B." (Read more)

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