Secretaries Spellings and Duncan Discuss Future of NCLB
Earlier this month, Margaret Spellings, president of the U.S. Chamber’s Forum for Policy Innovation joined U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the National Governors Association annual meeting to discuss the prospects for reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). There was much that the current and former secretary agreed upon – first and foremost, reauthorization is unlikely this year and if it is to happen next year, it will require the active participation of the governors. Both discussed the reality of where the debate currently lives in k-12 education—in state houses and school boards across the country. The common refrain in Washington D.C. today – flexibility and local control – is here to stay and the notion of a more muscular role for the federal government in education policy has faded.
Secretary Duncan discussed his department’s work with states to provide relief from the accountability requirements of NCLB as Secretary Spellings cautioned governors to take the time to understand how the education system in their state is likely to change as a result of those waivers. Because reauthorization is unlikely in the near term (or in the not-so-near term depending on who you talk to), the discussion about waivers is critical and one that the business community must pay closer attention to.
While acknowledging the need to reauthorize and improve the law, Secretary Spellings argued that the core elements of the law —standards plus annual measurement, plus transparency and disaggregation of data, plus consequences for failure—are the right principles then and now. However, the 30-plus waivers issued by the Administration do not hold firm to those principles and have some alarming traits in common—a seeming retreat from accountability for every child, extreme complexity, a lack of transparency for taxpayers, parents, students, and business leaders; and a reversal by most of the choice options for parents of students trapped in chronically failing schools.
Love it or hate it, NCLB was felt in every school in our country. Black and Hispanic kids in suburban schools got more focus than ever and the woeful underachievement in many urban schools was exposed. However, the waivers only focus on the bottom 5-15% of schools. One must ask – how is it that only half of minority kids graduate high school on time but only 5% of the schools need attention? Given these concerns, Secretary Spellings recommended that the governors ask some tough questions of their chiefs and state education agencies.
- First, how can these complicated waiver systems be explained to teachers and parents?
- Second, what will happen to poor, minority, and special education students in the 85% of schools who will not face consequences under the waivers?
- And third, now that choice and tutoring are no longer available, what can parents do to ensure their kids aren’t left behind?
While the place for debate is now in the states and districts with governors and state chiefs, the role of the business community is clear. Hold their feet to the fire. The education establishment has begged for relief from NCLB for a decade. They have it now. How will they respond?