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November 20 2012

Coming Soon to a School Near You: The Feds

Vicki E. Alger

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered his second education speech since the election (on his first, see here) at the Council of Chief State School Officers Annual Policy Forum. It’s still unclear when—or whether—Congress plans to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently call No Child Left Behind, but Duncan has a full agenda anyway.

He wants his Department to have a tighter grip on training teachers, turning schools around, and toddlers’ education. But that’s not all, which worries even CCSSO officials, as Education Week reported:

Some state chiefs, clearly concerned about just how much more involved Duncan would get in school improvement in their states, questioned his reach—from the recent Race to the Top for district competition to talk that he might pursue NCLB waivers for districts in states that, for whatever reason, do not get a waiver. …

There are obvious issues he will face in his second term—especially around (state) waiver implementation. Already, Virginia and the department had to agree to a waiver do-over after the state's methodology—approved by the department—resulted in little closing of achievement gaps. Other states endured criticism for setting different school performance goals for different subgroups of students, something the department allows as long as the groups farthest behind academically make faster progress. And, states and the department have come under fire for what some see as weak accountability for graduation in the approved waivers.

Waivers were made available as Congress stalled on rewriting the ESEA. So far, more than 30 states have earned flexibility from many of the core provisions of the NCLB law.

"We have 32, 33 different systems. Is that optimal? Probably not," he said to the chiefs.

Here’s something to consider. According to the Constitution, we have 50 schooling systems administered by the states (51 if you count DC). Why is this “system” optimal? Because voters, taxpayers, and parents can better oversee schooling closer to home rather than a one-size-fits-all system imposed from Washington.

More important, there are nearly 40 parental choice programs in more than 20 states that bring education even closer to home by putting parents in charge of their children’s schooling. 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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