Last month, President Obama granted 11 states waivers from the strict accountability requirements of the much-maligned No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), in exchange for adopting college and career ready standards, teacher evaluation systems, and methods to improve low performing schools. Intended as a workaround to a “do nothing Congress” that’s been unable to agree on a fix to NCLB, the conditional waiver plan has raised eyebrows on both sides of the aisle. With no end in sight to NCLB reauthorization negotiations and 26 more states seeking a second round of waivers, it’s likely the debate over the administration’s waiver plan is just getting started.
In a new Education Outlook released today, “Waive to the Top: The Dangers of Legislating Education Policy from the Executive Branch,” author Ben Riley, director of policy and advocacy for NewSchools Venture Fund, outlines three key legal, political, and implementation risks inherent in Obama and Secretary Duncan’s waiver strategy:
• First, Riley points out that, while the secretary of education does have authority to grant waivers to NCLB’s requirements, whether he has the authority to do so with conditions attached is still an open legal question. Not to mention it sets a dangerous precedent.
• Second, while several state governors have already taken the waiver bait—no doubt a sign that relief is needed—others have voiced clear reservations. Given Congressional Republicans’ vehement opposition to the plan and some states’ increasing concern over the Common Core standards, Riley notes that there’s a very good chance the administration will be left “defending a policy with very few allies.”
• Third, and perhaps most important, are the implementation questions: what incentive do states have to faithfully implement this new waiver policy if they think it might soon be replaced with a newly reauthorized ESEA? And how does the Department of Education plan to hold waiver states accountable if they stray from their promises?
Everyone agrees that something’s got to change. But there’s a good chance this “waive to the top” strategy will actually create more problems than it solves.