The NCLB Waiver: An Opportunity to Craft a Policy or a Time to Resist Temptation?

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

Rahm Emanuel

From the beginnings of public education until 1954 schools were the province of the local education authority; thousands of elected school boards made up of lay
people established budgets and guided education in their communities.

In the 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education the Supreme Court overturned Plessy v Ferguson and ruled the “separate but equal” concept was unconstitutional, the courts reached beyond school boards and state laws.

The Elementary and Secondary School Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) began providing supplemental federal funds to school districts based upon a poverty formula.

In 1983 a blue ribbon commission established by the US Secretary of Education released a report, “A Nation at Risk,”

The Commission was created as a result of the Secretary’s concern
about “the widespread public perception that something is seriously remiss
in our educational system.” Soliciting the “support of all who care
about our future,” the Secretary noted that he was establishing the
Commission based on his “responsibility to provide leadership,
constructive criticism, and effective assistance to schools and

The charge to the Commission reads very much like the questions the current
administration is asking,

The Commission’s charter contained several specific charges to
which we have given particular attention. These included:

  • assessing the quality of teaching and learning in our Nation’s public and private schools, colleges, and universities;
  • comparing American schools and colleges with those of other advanced nations;
  • studying the relationship between college admissions requirements and student achievement in high school;
  • identifying educational programs which result in notable student success in college;
  • assessing the degree to which major social and educational changes in the last quarter century have affected student achievement; and
  • defining problems which must be faced and overcome if we are successfully to pursue the course of excellence in education.

Almost thirty years later the Commission recommendations still have relevance.

Interestingly while the education establishment vigorously attacked the report, Albert Shanker supported the report, much to the chagrin of the education sages and many of his own members.

The  invisible wall that divided federal and local authority remained in effect,
although frayed, until 2002.

The reauthorization of ESEA was renamed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and was passed with bi-partisan support, enthusiastically lead by Massachusetts Senator Kennedy.

The law required that states establish goals defined as “adequate yearly progress” with sanctions if districts/schools and sub-groups failed to meet the
state established goals. All districts/schools are required to meet AYP goals
by 2014. The law also required annual testing in grades 3-8 in order to gather
data to measure AYP.

Richard Rothstein has been a consistent critic of the law and felt it had little chance of reauthorization – after all opposition around the country was substantial, Diane Ravitch averred that support by the elites guaranteed reauthorization.
(see discussion here)

The Congress and the Executive Branch have been discussing the reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB since 2007, without reaching a consensus.

The Obama administration’s plan for a reauthorized law are laid out in their
Blueprint for Reform document, basically embedding the goals of the Race to the Top competition into the law.

Chester Finn and Michael Petrilli, right of center commentators, have been sharply critical of the intrusive role of the federal government,

For most of our history, Uncle Sam steered clear of the issue; in
the days of Jim Crow, this amounted to shameful neglect. After
v. Board of Education
(1954) and the Elementary and Secondary
Education Act (1965), the pendulum began to swing toward the other extreme: Washington became an overbearing, micromanaging schoolmarm, attempting to coerce equity, then excellence, from the K–12 system through regulation and bribery. This, too, has failed to produce schools of which our nation can be proud.

Rothstein and Ravitch from the left of center and Finn and Petrilli from the right, NCLB was being trashed from all sides.

The rollover of the House of Representatives in 2010 resulted in a Republican Chair of the Education Committee and the increasing power of the Tea Party within the Republican caucus signaled an end to the Blueprint. The Tea Party members support a reduced role for the federal government in educational policy – some espouse the abolition of the Education Department.

The Obama/Duncan administration developed a new strategy, an end run around Congress, the granting of waivers to states from NCLB sanctions in exchange for accepting the Race to the Top/Blueprint goals.

If states fail to apply for a waiver they risk that by 2014 most of their schools
will fall into the NCLB “failing” school category, requiring interventions or risking the loss of federal dollars.

On the other hand after November, 2012 we may have a new President and a new Congress and a totally different focus of education policy.

Education Week explains that,

The Obama administration … said it will waive the cornerstone
requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, including the 2014 deadline that
all students be proficient in math and language arts, and will give states the
freedom to set their own student-achievement goals, and design their own
interventions for failing schools.

In exchange for this flexibility, the administration will require
states to adopt
college- and career-ready standards, focus on 15 percent of their most-troubled schools, and create guidelines for teacher evaluations based in part on student performance.

The waiver application requires that the judges,

examine whether the state “meaningfully” engaged and solicited input from teachers and their representatives. More importantly, the judges will be told to ask: Will implementation be successful because of the input and “commitment” of teachers and their representatives?

The New York Times in an editorial strongly supports the administration waiver alternative.

The administration proposal raises weighty problems for the states.

Should states apply for waivers and make the sweeping changes required by the policy? or, wait for the dust to clear after the 2012 election cycle?

Do the changes already made in New York State to qualify for the Race to the Top application qualify New York State for the waiver?

Can the New York State waiver application negate the New York  City school closings, and replace them with an intrusive intervention strategy while schools remain open? Can a waiver plan trump Tweed?

The NYC Department did abandon Teacher Data Reports as the state moves to a statewide student achievement growth model. Twenty percent of teacher evaluations will be based on the data of the yet to be designed tool.

Regent Tisch, her co-freres, State Education Commissioner King, NYSED President Ianuzzi and UFT President Mulgrew will have a short timeframe to engage, the application is due in November.

Is opportunity knocking or are the forces of evil batting down the door?

Is this a time to seize the moment or resist temptation?


3 responses to “The NCLB Waiver: An Opportunity to Craft a Policy or a Time to Resist Temptation?

  1. Eric Nadelstern

    “… are the forces of evil batting down the door?”

    The “forces of evil?” Is this what the debate for better schools in New York descended to? The UFT accuses the opposition of demonizing labor unions and union members. Is it now using the very tactics it condemns to villify those who disagree in such a crass way?


  2. I still “go with” the comment made some years ago, when school reform was the phrase de jour, by a retired, 90 year old teacher who said, “there’s nothing new in education except scotch tape.” In other words – we know what works (NYC public schools were envied back in the 40’s and 50’s). The one room school houses did an amazing job of educating back in the day. Yes, one has to adapt to a new world, but human nature hasn’t changed, developmental stages haven’t changed. Kids respond to passionate teachers and passionate teaching. Let’s go back and look at those curriculae, daily plans, tests and teacher training. It worked. What we are doing now isn’t working. Not every change is for the better. There are programs we can look at as role models. And remember – there’s big money in new programs, new tests, etc. The push for change isn’t always driven by pure motives. But our children deserve better and should not be “used” for ulterior motives. We know what works – now get the “amateurs” out of the way.


  3. I agree fully. We need to go back to the old way. My daughter was transferred to another school due to the NCLB law and now I’m starting to wonder was it a better move or was is just a bandaid fix to a larger problem.

    When they took prayer out the schools, all hell broke loose and I’m not a religious person but our kids need somethng to believe in and right now its sad to say for some of our kids there’s not much to believe in any more especially our kids who live in lower income areas.


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