The ESEA Doomsday Scenario

After years of “will they/won’t they.” it appears the U.S. Department of Education is finally ready to move forward with its Plan B for reforming No Child Left Behind.  In a release sent out over the weekend for public consumption today, ED announced its intention to “fix” NCLB.  The announcement can be found here, courtesy of Politico.  Also note the Politico story on the matter.

Back in June, when EdSec Arne Duncan first raised the possibility of a regulatory Plan B for reauthorization, Eduflack was one of the few that actually saw it as a possibility/good idea.  Since then, little has changed.  Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) is still primarily focused on the higher ed side of the education coin.  House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (MN) is still looking to break ESEA into small chunks that can be consumed by members of his committee.  And the education space, as a whole, is still demanding real changes to components of the current law, most notably the accountability provisions (the dreaded AYP).
So with Duncan long promising reauthorization before the start of a new school year (and Eduflack still believes such reauthorization can happen, before the start of the 2013 school year), the EdSec had to act.  And he seems to be acting from the best script he could find, using terms like “flexibility, reform at state and local level, bridge.”  And for good measure, Duncan and White House DPC Director Melody Barnes are even tying these moves to “America’s future competitiveness.”
In the public statement, Barnes even makes not of accountability flexibility provisions coming down the pike, with each and every state in the union having the opportunity to “apply” and “succeed” for states seeking “flexibility” with regard to accountability.
Suffice it to say, this morning’s announcement will likely not go over well with Congress.  Many will see this as an end run around our legislative branch, essentially giving the executive branch the power to make law, at least with regard to ESEA.  But we’ve been waiting on congressional reauthorization of ESEA since 2007.  It is now 2011.  If Duncan and company are prepared to live with NCLB as it is mostly written, and make a few changes to address specific issues or concerns from states and localities, it is their prerogative to give it a go.  It will then be Congress’ job to either codify those changes or reverse them.
Duncan is one again declaring “game on,” trying to make education a central focus of the Obama Administration’s domestic policy agenda.  While few can think that weakening the accountability provisions is a sexy issue that will capture the hearts and minds of voters, it is a move that is responsive to a particular constituency, demonstrates a real change from the previous administration, and shows some leadership with regard to education policy.  Only time will tell if such an approach is effective, both in addressing the growing challenges in our schools and as a means of jumpstarting some real K-12 action in Congress.
    

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