Duncan’s Plan to Waive NCLB Meets Strident Backlash

Published August 10, 2011

Since Congress has not reauthorized No Child Left Behind by this fall, Education Secretary Arne Duncan says he will waive some of the federal education law’s penalties for states that adopt measures the administration supports, such as overhauling the worst schools and linking teacher evaluations to student test scores. NCLB grants the secretary power to issue waivers, but not in exchange for states adopting policies.

Rep. John Kline (R-MN), chair of the House Education Committee, sent Duncan a letter demanding he outline his waiver authority. Duncan responded, quoting NCLB and mentioning growing distress among states that cannot meet the law’s requirements, but offered no further specifics.

Kline said his committee plans to reauthorize NCLB by the end of this year.

Duncan is “overstepping his statutory authority in order to push the administration’s education priorities,” said Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

Most states set student proficiency targets along a curve, with lower benchmarks early on and steep jumps later, expecting Congress to change NCLB before 2014’s requirement for full proficiency.

“The states are moaning now that the law is ‘punitive’ because they’re not reaching the goals they themselves set,” said Sandy Kress, an education attorney and former Bush administration official. If they’d stop asking for federal money, I’d be totally sympathetic with their cry for relief.”