Leaving No Child Left Behind Behind
On December 17, 2014, I read a post entitled, Republican Leader Wants to Reduce Federal Role, on education historian Diane Ravitch’s blog. In it, she refers to leader of the House Education Committee and the Workforce, John Kline (R-Minnesota), whose interview with Abby Simons was published December 15, 2014, in the Star Tribune. Regarding Kline’s thoughts on education reform for the next legislative session, Simon writes,
Education reform Kline, who cruised to a seventh term last month, will continue chairing the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Along with his Senate counterpart Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Kline said his first priority is replacing No Child Left Behind and reducing the role of the federal government in K-12 education. Whatever the new act is called, the name “No Child Left Behind” is history.
“You can count on that,” he said. [Emphasis added.]
Hard to believe that Duncan wants to kill NCLB or reduce his own role in the matter. We’ll let that one ride.
What has my attention here is John Kline.
Though I am not from Minnesota, I am familiar with Kline for his concerns about handing over “sweeping authority” to the likes of US Secretary Arne Duncan via the so-called NCLB waivers. As Kline noted in the September 23, 2011 New York Times:
“While I appreciate some of the policies outlined in the secretary’s waivers plan, I simply cannot support a process that grants the secretary of education sweeping authority to handpick winners and losers,” said Representative John Kline, Republican of Minnesota, who is chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
“This sets a dangerous precedent. Make no mistake — this is a political move that could have a damaging impact on Congressional efforts to enact lasting reforms to current elementary and secondary education law.” [Emphasis added.]
Kline was concerned that Duncan’s NCLB waivers would sidetrack any meaningful revision of a failed NCLB. Sure enough, the NCLB that stalled in Congress in 2007 had not been reauthorized, even by 2013, with Kline’s replacement, the Student Success Act, passing the House in July 2013 but going no further. Kline’s bill– considered a “NCLB rollback”– apparently fizzled in the then-Democratic-led Senate.
The US Senate is no longer Democratic-led.
Kline’s concern in 2011 was well founded given the power Duncan had to prescribe stipulations for states to receive waivers from a NCLB that Duncan himself called “a slow motion train wreck” in the August 8, 2011 New York Times.
Duncan’s intent in driving state education policy was made clear in those conditions:
Under the new (2011 NCLB waiver) policy, only those states that have adopted new academic standards that the administration calls “college and career ready” will be eligible to receive the waivers, according to White House documents distributed on Thursday. Also, states applying for the flexibility must sketch their plans for transforming their lowest-performing schools and for establishing new ways to measure the performance of teachers and principals.
Those that meet those conditions will be eligible to ask Mr. Duncan to relieve them from the 2014 deadline on student proficiency, which state and school district leaders have long said was an impossibly high bar. [Emphasis added.]
In March 2010, the Obama-Duncan-promoted NCLB reauthorization clearly embedded CCSS and the federally-funded consortium-developed assessments into the law. Also mentioned is a “fostering” of “A Race to the Top” and expansion of “high performing” charter schools. In keeping with the original “slow motion train wreck” NCLB, the proposed 2010 reauthorization was centered on student test scores.
(Incidentally, this archived 2010 NCLB reauthorization blueprint is no longer available on the USDOE website. Trying to erase the inconvenient past, I suppose.)
By fall 2011, Congress had not reauthorized NCLB Obama-Duncan-Style; so, in 2011, Obama and Duncan effected a Congress-dodging, back-door “reauthorization” via their “waivers.”
Duncan publicly declared his Congress-bypassing intentions in a June 2011 NPR interview. Here is an excerpt of Duncan’s tourniquet NCLB waivers, as justified in his own view to host Neal Conan of NPR’s Talk of the Nation:
CONAN: Well, we’d like to thank everybody coming. And we appreciate it. Now, you announced that you’re prepared to bypass Congress, relax some parts of the No Child Left Behind. That law was passed by Congress, signed by the president. We may disagree with it. It may be outmoded. It may be unwise. Nevertheless, isn’t it the law?
DUNCAN: It is the law. And we’re not bypassing Congress by any stretch of the imagination. This is simply, as you said, a Plan B. And we think there are many, many flaws in the current law. We think with – if nothing happens, the vast majority of schools in our country will be labeled as failures. That’s not reality. That’s not fair to teachers and principals who are working so hard. It’s very confusing to students and to parents.
And so we have the ability to provide regulatory relief. And, again, our absolute Plan A is to work with Congress to fix the law, and to do it in a bipartisan way. And there have been some encouraging signs in the last week or so. But Neal, what’s not tenable to me is doing nothing, just going to the next school year with the current law in place, exactly as it is, where states are raising the bar, where they’re doing the right thing by children. We need to provide them greater flexibility, and we need to meet them half way. And that’s what – if Congress doesn’t act, we will. But again, our absolute first goal, first priority is to work with Congress to fix the law across the country.
To Duncan, “greater flexibility” means, “Do it my way.”
And “do it my way” was clearly CCSS and its consortium-developed assessments and “racing to the top.”
Thus, Obama and Duncan basically told Congress to reauthorize their CCSS-and-consortium-assessment, Race-to-the-Top version of NCLB or get the same anyway, waiver-style.
It is now December 2014. As of November 2014, Obama and Duncan are trying to entice states to renew NCLB waivers in an effort to lock states into Obama-Duncan-preferred CCSS-test-driven reform even up through the 2018-19 school year.
However, if NCLB dies in Congress the way that Kline is promoting, then all states get more than a convoluted “waiver”– they get an exit.
A long overdue exit.