Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hess on Duncan

Frederick Hess doesn't like what Duncan is doing, but if done right (i.e., with real spine), I think it's great:

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has announced that he will unilaterally override the centerpiece requirement of the No Child Left Behind school accountability law, that 100 percent of students be proficient in math and reading by 2014.

Mr. Duncan told reporters that he was acting because Congress had failed to rewrite the Bush-era law, which he called a "slow-motion train wreck." He is waiving the law's proficiency requirements for states that have adopted their own testing and accountability programs and are making other strides toward better schools, he said. 

The administration's plan amounts to the most sweeping use of executive authority to rewrite federal education law since Washington expanded its involvement in education in the 1960s.

…In Friday's conference call, Mr. Duncan and Ms. Barnes said the Department of Education would issue guidelines next month inviting states to apply for the waivers. For a waiver to be approved, they said, states would need to show that they were adopting higher standards under which high school students were "college- and career-ready" at graduation, were working to improve teacher effectiveness and evaluation systems based on student test scores and other measures, were overhauling the lowest-performing schools, and were adopting locally designed school accountability systems to replace No Child's pass-fail system.

Those requirements match the criteria the administration used last year in picking winning states in its two-stage Race to the Top grant competition. Ms. Barnes said states would not be competing against one another with their waiver applications. But the similarity irked critics.

"It sounds like they're trying to do a backdoor Round 3 of Race to the Top, and that's astonishing," said Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute. He called Mr. Duncan's plan "a dramatically broad reading of executive authority."

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