Another school year is coming to a close, and schools across the country are still operating under the restrictive rules of No Child Left Behind. Unless the law is changed, an overwhelming number of schools in the country may soon be mislabeled as failing. This will trigger impractical and ineffective sanctions. It’s confusing to students and parents and demoralizing for teachers and principals.
The Obama Administration continues to work closely with Congress to reauthorize NCLB, but with the new school year just months away, ED is beginning to investigate how to address NCLB’s problems through regulatory flexibility, if necessary.
Secretary Duncan said that regulatory flexibility will not replace comprehensive reform, or give states and districts a pass from accountability. Instead, the goal is to “unleash energy at the local level even as Congress works to rewrite the law, giving states, districts and schools the flexibility they need to raise standards, boost quality, and improve our lowest-performing schools.”
In today’s Politico, Secretary Duncan penned an op-ed explaining the importance of reauthorizing NCLB:
Everyone responsible for educating children for the knowledge economy of the 21st century agrees that America’s federal education law is in dire need of reform. Teachers, parents, school leaders, governors, members of Congress and the Education Department have all called for an overhaul of the No Child Left Behind Act.
I commend Congress for the hard work under way on reauthorizing NCLB, now known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers. Senate and House leaders should continue their work toward a bipartisan reauthorization bill by the start of the school year. While we don’t expect agreement on all of the details, there is real goodwill and support for reauthorizing ESEA and virtually no one — inside or outside government — is defending the status quo.
I remain hopeful and confident that Congress will soon take action to strengthen and upgrade the nation’s education law. But while Congress works, state and local school districts are buckling under the law’s goals and mandates. Despite our shared sentiment for reform and the Obama administration’s long-standing proposal to reshape NCLB, the law remains in place, four years after it was due for reauthorization. Our children get only one shot at an education. They cannot wait any longer for reform.
For this reason, our administration will develop a plan that trades regulatory flexibility for reform. If Congress does not complete work on reauthorization soon, we will be prepared with a process that will enable schools to move ahead with reform in the fall. States, districts and schools need the freedom to implement high standards, strengthen the quality of their teachers and school leaders and embrace a more flexible, fair and focused system of accountability. Many members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, have voiced support for these nonpartisan goals.
The stakes are high. As it currently exists, NCLB is creating a slow-motion educational train wreck for children, parents and teachers. Under the law, an overwhelming number of schools in the country may soon be labeled as “failing,” eventually triggering impractical and ineffective sanctions.
To avoid these sanctions, many states have lowered academic standards instead of making them more rigorous. The law also makes no distinction between a high-performing school with one or two subgroups underperforming and a low-performing school where everyone is struggling. As a result, states and districts are spending billions of dollars each year on one-size-fits-all mandates dictated from Washington rather than on locally tailored solutions that effectively reach the students most at risk and close achievement gaps.
Under the umbrella of the Learning First Alliance, 16 national organizations representing tens of thousands of local administrators and school board members as well as millions of teachers are seeking flexibility from NCLB’s deadlines and mandates. Separately, a number of state education chiefs have echoed the call for flexibility tied to education reform.
Louisiana, for example, is seeking flexibility to put in place a comprehensive reform plan, as is Tennessee, a winner of the administration’s key reform program, Race to the Top. Nine other states are seeking flexibility from the law, while others have threatened to simply ignore the NCLB deadlines.
Meanwhile, many states are moving forward with reform, voluntarily adopting higher standards and collaborating on a new generation of assessments. They are developing new systems of evaluating and supporting teachers, building comprehensive data systems to improve teaching and to track student gains and transforming chronically low-performing schools — including the high schools that produce a disproportionate share of America’s dropouts.
The purpose of our administration’s plan is not to give states and districts a reprieve from accountability but, rather, to unleash energy for reform at the local level even as Congress works to rewrite the law. It’s a meaningful step to help educators, parents and community leaders transition from today’s stifling, top-down approach toward a climate of locally designed innovation and excellence.
Fifteen months have passed since the administration unveiled its blueprint to reform NCLB. On two separate occasions, President Barack Obama has convened House and Senate leaders at the White House to help spur action. I’ve held countless bipartisan meetings across Capitol Hill. The president reissued the call for reform in March.
More and more people recognize education is the game-changer in the global economy. A world-class education system is the engine of economic growth, innovation, competitiveness and job creation. Our children, our teachers and our parents deserve a world-class education — not some day, but today.