Rick Hess on No Child Left Behind waivers

In yesterday’s blog I expressed my reservations about the Obama administration’s announcement that several states had been granted waivers from No Child Left Behind. Today I want to share some observations from my favorite education commentator, AEI’s Rick Hess, who also worries about the end-run around the legislative process. He comments:

“I found remarkably graceless the way in which the administration chest-thumpingly blamed the waivers on congressional inaction, while taking no responsibility for the slow pace of ESEA reauthorization (much less acknowledging that they dawdled for 14 months with a Democratic Congress before ever introducing its initial ESEA “blueprint.”) The White House gleefully declared, “The administration’s decision to provide waivers followed extensive efforts to work with Congress to rewrite NCLB.” This may come as news to those GOP edu-staff who complained persistently throughout 2009 and 2010 that they couldn’t get the Department to give them the time of day. The history added irony to the President declaring, with less respect for the U.S. Constitution than I might expect from a law professor, “After waiting far too long for Congress to act, I announced that my administration would take steps to reform No Child Left Behind on our own.”

Hess also questions the administration’s repeated assurances that states would be granted more flexibility to achieve educational progress: “One only had to read Duncan’s complicated, jargon-laden, finger-wagging letters to the ten approved states to see just how prescriptive the process is. In fact, I don’t think the extent of the new demands–and the limited flexibility granted–will be clear for weeks, at best. It’ll require patient observers to wade through the requests, letters, conditions, and so on. Just for starters, it would appear that the waiver “winners” just promised to adopt narrow, prescriptive teacher evaluation and school improvement policies that apply to charter schools as well as district schools–but not even charter authorities are entirely clear on how this will play out in reality or if these commitments should be taken any more seriously than so many empty promises in the Race to the Top applications.”

I’m hoping that as details — and problems – emerge, legislators will rev up their efforts to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Writing laws is messy. Compromise is inevitable. But the alternative is policy by fiat. Even if we like the directives — and I continue to like some of them — that’s not how a democracy works.

Here’s a link to Hess’s blog, “Rich Hess Straight Up.”


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