Many rural schools and districts have had difficulty complying with key components of the law, a bipartisan measure passed early in the presidential term of George W. Bush. Duncan, senators and representatives had been discussing legislation to change the act, but Duncan recently said "There’s a level of dysfunction in Congress that’s paralyzing." Now the administration is effectively rewriting the law on its own, Jack Jennings, president of the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy, told Layton: “It’s a momentous development.”
Republicans question Duncan's authority to grant waivers in return for changes, and one of those who had been working on legislation with him, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has "filed a bill to restrict Duncan’s ability to issue waivers," Layton reports.
UPDATE, Sept. 23: The Obama Administration said it will approve waivers for "specific NCLB mandates that are stifling reform." They will be granted only if states can prove they are moving schools toward college and career-ready standards, developing new accountability standards and making reforms supporting instruction and school leadership. These factors will be determined based upon an overall index score that tallied through a set list of indicators including things like assessment, yearly progress and teacher and principal readiness. For the administration statement, click here. For a report from Stateline Daily, go here.
On a conference call with Duncan, Kentucky Education Secretary Terry Holiday and Georgia Schools Superintendent John Barge, Duncan said these reforms are intended to "encourage local solutions," and will allow states to decide what is best for their students. He said if he hadn't seen leadership from states like Kentucky and Georgia these reforms would not have happened.
The impact this change will have on rural schools was not discussed during the call, though much was said about identifying "low-achieving" schools, typically those in rural and urban areas where resources are limited, so funding needed to improve achievement could be funneled to them. Duncan said he anticipated the first waivers to be approved late this year and early next. Congressional authorization of more in-depth reforms to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act are pending.