On "No Child" Reform

Interesting tableau in Washington, today, with Governor Lincoln Chafee and Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, who have clashed in the past, playing witness - together - to President Obama's announcement of changes to the No Child Left Behind regime.

The president is offering states waivers from from NCLB's 2014 deadline for meeting testing targets in exchange for a commitment to tougher teacher evaluation systems and overhauls of low-performing schools - central planks of the Obama education agenda.

NCLB's rigidity is, by any reasonable measure, a problem. And the presence of Chafee, aligned with the more traditionalist approach to education favored by the teachers unions, and Gist, of the market-driven reform school that prevails in policy circles now, speaks to the broad agreement on that point.

But the shift is also interesting because it underscores how education reform has turned traditional politics on its head. It moves from a centralized, Washington-based approach imposed by a Republican administration toward a decentralized, state-focused approach favored by a Democratic administration.

A statement by Education Trust, a pro-accountability group focused on low-achieving students, captured it well, I thought. It reads, in part:

For years, states have been demanding the kind of flexibility offered today. They’ve said that the terms of NCLB were unrealistic. They’ve highlighted the fact that their schools weren’t given credit for student growth. And they’ve pointed out that the law’s required interventions in schools that missed their goals created a damaging “one size fits all” approach to school improvement. In short, they’ve told us that they know how to do it better. In fact, far too many state leaders spent a lot of time and energy over the past decade bashing the law instead of getting all of their students to read and do math at grade level.

Now, the Obama administration has handed states a responsible framework in which they can exercise the flexibility they said they wanted. It’s time for them to stand and deliver — on behalf of all students, but particularly those who are farthest behind.

Chafee and Gist have a lot to do when they get home.


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