Melody Barnes, director of President Obama’s White House Domestic Policy Council, emphasized that, while all states would be able to apply for waivers regarding NCLB’s accountability, only those seen as instituting “ambitious school improvement initiatives” — such as their own testing and accountability programs — would be granted them. The waivers, she said, are “not a pass on accountability.”
Barnes also said that, with the new school year about to start (and on the verge of starting in some states), “we still believe there is no clear path toward a bipartisan bill to reform “No Child Left Behind.” In Politico, Senator Tom Harkin, the chairman of the Senate education committee and a Democrat from Iowa, also said that it was “understandable” that Duncan has chosen to pursue the waiver plan as — in a comment that resonates after the debacle over the debt-ceiling negotiations — “it is undeniable that this Congress faces real challenges reaching bipartisan, bicameral agreement on anything.”
The plan, says Duncan, is meant to serve as a “bridge” or a “transition” to further action by Congress and not be a challenge to House Education and Workforce Committee chairman John Kline’s legislation. Kline, a Minnesota Republican, has challenged Duncan’s right to issue waivers in a June letter. His committees has completed three overhaul bills focusing on elimination of federal programs, financial flexibility for states, and charter schools. But the committee has yet to produce bills reforming the law’s provisions for school accountability and teacher effectiveness provisions.
In September, Duncan says a plan will be announced about how to apply for the waivers, says the New York Times:
For a waiver to be approved, they said, states would need to show that they were adopting higher standards under which high school students were “college- and career-ready” at graduation, were working to improve teacher effectiveness and evaluation systems based on student test scores and other measures, were overhauling the lowest-performing schools, and were adopting locally designed school accountability systems to replace No Child’s pass-fail system.
Those requirements match the criteria the administration used last year in picking winning states in its two-stage Race to the Top grant competition.
Critics say that Duncan’s plan is simply another round of Race to the Top. But school officials are likely to support it; some states, including Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee, have already applied for waivers — and some schools (Idaho, South Dakota and Montana) have already informed the Education Department that they will ignore parts of the law.
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