Waivering on NCLB

How do you solve a problem like ESEA?  Last week, Eduflack opined on how ESEA reauthorization didn’t seem to be moving as scheduled, and how EdSec Arne Duncan and company could make due with NCLB with a few changes.  Based on Duncan’s remarks over the weekend, reported superbly (as always) by the Associated Press’ Dorie Turner, it looks like Eduflack was doing a little more than just whistlin’ in the wind.   

On the pages of Politico yesterday, Duncan made one final attempt to jumpstart ESEA reauthorization.  Otherwise, he may be forced to resort to “Plan B,” using his waiver powers to provide school districts and states some relief from those NCLB mandates that many want to see reversed, such as the accountability provisions.
Now folks have been talking about NCLB waivers and executive powers for years now.  Former EdSec Margaret Spellings made some adjustments to the law in 2008 through the powers invested in her, including adopting a common graduation rate formula.  And many have been waiting for Duncan to take similar action, expecting changes and adjustments since his confirmation in early 2009.
Of course, Duncan initiated talk of Plan B without going into specifics on what would be waived and what would be reconsidered.  And why should he?  The EdSec (and the President, for what it’s worth) has made clear he both wanted and needed a reauthorized ESEA by the start of the 2011-12 school year.  Just as he wanted a revised ESEA in 2009.  Just as he needed it in 2010.  And just as he wanted it earlier this year.  
And Duncan has made clear what he wants. More discretionary funding for programs like Race to the Top and i3.  Codifying RttT priorities such as educator quality and school turnaround.  A revised outlook on accountability, with an emphasis on college and career readiness (and those lovely common core standards).  Some flexibility for rural schools.  And a little more this, and a little more that.
He’s offered, time and again, to play Let’s Make a Deal with Congress.  Three years running, he’s had his people ready to work with congressional leaders on a new ESEA.  More than a year ago, he issued his ESEA Blueprint to provide Congress a map to get to the shared destination.  Yet here we are, more than four years after ESEA was supposed to be reauthorized, with the same NCLB and no new whole cloth legislation to consider in its stead.
So why not threaten to take your ball and go home?  At this stage of the game, why not offer Plan B, with details to come at a later date?  
Almost reminds me of the climax of Major League, when Pedro Cerrano is desperate for the game-winning home run, talking to his “spiritual guide, Jobu.  “Look, I go to you.  I stick up for you.  You don’t help me now.  I say *@&#*$ you, Jobu.  I do it myself.”
Duncan and his team have gone to Congress.  They’ve stuck up for Congress and many of the leadership’s priorities.  If Congress isn’t going to help them now, Duncan can just do it himself.
The remaining question now is whether Congress intends to step to the pitcher’s rubber on this one, or just let Duncan hit it off the tee.

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