A states’ rights insurrection led by…California?

Three cheers for California’s governor, state superintendent, and state board chair, for applying for a waiver from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka No Child Left Behind) that doesn’t totally kowtow to Washington. While Jerry Brown, Tom Torlakson, and Mike Kirst deserve plenty of criticism for their indifference to education reform—kicking charter supporters off the state board, cozying up to the teacher unions—on this one they deserve kudos for bravery and federalism. In a nine-page request (still in draft form for another month) they ask Arne Duncan to allow California to use its own accountability system, the Academic Performance Index (API), and to scrap AYP. But they refuse to meet one of Duncan’s conditions for such flexibility: namely, the creation of a statewide teacher evaluation system. As Kirst bluntly put it, "We're saying we just can't pay for it." Moreover, he continued, "We do not see anything in the law about state mandates for teacher evaluation." Finally, a state willing to call out the administration on the dubious legality of its waiver policy. (And a true-blue state at that!) To be clear: California’s request shouldn’t automatically be approved. There are legitimate questions about API and whether it’s demanding enough (and sensitive enough to subgroup performance). As with the other states, Duncan has a right to negotiate over the particulars. But he doesn’t have a right to demand in return the creation of a teacher evaluation system not mentioned in the law. It may well be a good idea—but under the U.S. Constitution the executive branch must persuade the legislative branch before it becomes law!

California Readies Own Waiver Request,” by Alyson Klein, Education Week—Politics K-12 blog, May 4, 2012.

This post originally appeared in a slightly different form as a post on the Flypaper blog.

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