The reauthorization blueprint
I've never been so conflicted about a K-12 education proposal.
If the administration gets its way, the federal role will be greatly diminished, restoring federalism's place in education and conceding Washington's inability to control local K-12 policies, practices, and outcomes. These are important philosophical and procedural gains, but they also bear the enormous risk of returning us to an era when achievement was uneven, progress was slow, deeply troubled schools and systems were ignored, and millions of students were left behind.
A glass-half-full view of the proposal is that the Obama administration has learned from the nation's 8-year experience with NCLB; that it is holding on to some of the most important components of accountability while adding valuable new features; that it is openly recognizing Uncle Sam's strengths and weaknesses; and that those best suited to controlling schools--state and local leaders--will be re-empowered.
The half-empty interpretation is that the administration is abandoning meaningful federal accountability, handing the reins back to entities that failed too many kids for too long, and capitulating to establishment organizations that bristled at being required to increase the achievement all of kids.
The proposal would overhaul--in effect eliminate--the core of NCLB's accountability framework (for wonks, sections 1111 and 1116). There would be no more AYP, no "in need of improvement" status. There would be no more public school choice or free tutoring for students in failing schools. There would be no more "corrective action" or "restructuring" for the failing schools themselves.
Schools would still be required to administer reading and math assessments and publicize results; this information would be even more meaningful through the required??use of growth measures. But after scores are calculated and disseminated, the federal government's role, in the vast majority of cases,??would be complete. Where, when, and how to intervene would be left to states and districts.
The administration's theory of action is that the combination of common standards, reliable metrics, public transparency, and state and local leaders' best intentions will drive continuous school improvement. That is a reasonable hypothesis. But it is worth remembering that prior to NCLB we had NAEP, and many states had accountability systems. ??For whatever reason, pre-2002, state and local control plus data plus shame didn't equal the results we wanted.
Moreover, the removal of tough federal accountability would return us to the days when tens of billions of federal dollars flow to states and districts every year with minimal federal control over results. The administration's proposal would give Uncle Sam a say in the highest performing 10 percent of schools (they'd get more money and flexibility) and the lowest performing 5 percent (they'd be subject to the four SIF interventions). But for the 85 percent in between--which would undoubtedly include many, many schools with serious problems--the feds would be wholly hands-off.
A number of other blueprint provisions deserve attention (including holding districts accountable, making RTT and i3 permanent, and establishing a 2020 performance deadline), and I'll write about those more later. But the changes to federal accountability are the most important and deserve the most scrutiny.
My tortured views on federalism in public education are the result of two completely contradictory notions: first, that lots of kids were ill served when the federal government was virtually hand-off; and second, that the federal government, as a matter of principle, shouldn't get too involved and, as a matter of policy, probably couldn't do much better.
Therein lies my support for and misgivings about NCLB. Therein lies my support for and misgivings about the administration's proposal.??I can only hope that others feel similarly conflicted.