Tag Archives: civil rights groups

The “Soft Bigotry of ‘It’s Optional’”–and What it Reveals about ESEA Politics, Policy, and Prospects

No matter the final outcome, one things is for certain: the new Congress has energized the debate over ESEA reauthorization. In the span of a weekend, numerous organizations articulated key principles for overhauling No Child Left Behind, including state education chiefscivil rights organizations, and the nation’s second largest teachers union, the AFT.

Now, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has stepped into the fray, in a significant policy speech this morning, marking the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s call to Congress to expand the federal role in education–which resulted in the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The big news item here is Secretary Duncan’s “line in the sand”–keeping the requirement for students to be tested statewide in reading and math annually in grades 3-8 and once in high school. But what sets Duncan’s remarks apart from the statements released over the weekend isn’t testing, but how strongly he defended other potential federal responsibilities in a new ESEA, including requirements for states to:

  • adopt college- and career-ready standards;
  • continue producing annual information for families about their child’s learning, and the learning environment and results for their schools as a whole;
  • maintain school accountability systems that include consequences for schools where students don’t make academic progress; and
  • improve teacher preparation programs, and establish teacher evaluation systems that include evidence of students’ learning.

Duncan also highlighted ways the federal government could be even more active in promoting opportunity, such as resource accountability to ensure that low-income and minority kids are not shortchanged when it comes to course access, effective teachers, and fiscal resources; new support for innovation and research that helps schools continuously improve; and an expanded role within ESEA to help states deliver high-quality preschool.

In defending a robust federal role, Secretary Duncan even co-opted President Bush’s talking point by calling out “the soft bigotry of ‘it’s optional.’” That’s not just a great punch line. It also revealed much more about the politics of reauthorization, the confusing and convoluted federal education policy landscape, and the prospects of this particular effort to rewrite NCLB. Continue reading

NCLB Waiver Renewal Guidance: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

In a speech to chief state school officers, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan finally unveiled guidance for states seeking to renew their waivers from No Child Left Behind, all of which (except Illinois’) are set to expire at the end of the school year. These renewal guidelines (see the official guidance and letter to states here for the nitty-gritty details) are critical, because they are the last remaining leverage point for this administration to urge states to stay the course on some of its key priorities, from college- and career-ready standards and tests to new teacher evaluation systems that take into account students’ learning. And with Duncan and Co.’s time and capacity quickly expiring, managing the implementation of waivers is one of the few big remaining items on the administration’s to-do list.

While I could go on (and on) about the finer points of the waiver renewal guidelines, here are three big takeaways—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and what they mean for NCLB waivers moving forward (if you want a longer take, check out these recaps, with reactions from the field, from Politics K-12 and Huffington Post).  

The good. Unlike the last round of waivers and waiver extensions, states will be able to get flexibility for three or even four years, in some cases (something I suggested that the Department consider). While longer waivers pose risks, especially if states are making poor choices with their newfound flexibility and seeing marginal improvement in student learning, these policy risks are outweighed by how the additional time will improve the waiver process—and possibly, the chances for a reauthorization before 2019 (seventeen years after NCLB’s passage), when the last of these new waivers could expire. In this light, it’s a win-win for everybody: baking in Duncan’s preferred policies well into the next administration’s tenure, providing states with the policy stability they’ve been craving, and giving a new administration some breathing room to develop their own policies and approaches toward reauthorization and flexibility. Continue reading