Today the President will give a speech outlining how states can get those waivers and what they will cover. It seems clear, though, that only states that buy into the administration's vision of ed reform (see Race to the Top) will get the waivers. This includes charter schools and that's why you may see this push for charters here in Washington state.
Here's a thoughtful blog post from Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post. She says:
If the administration believes it has the power to relieve states of NCLB mandates without congressional input, why not do it without favor?
The overriding issue is the goal of having all children proficient by 2014. This was never a realistic goal in the first place - akin to "all high school seniors will go to college" - but especially difficult because of the numbers of Special Education and ELL students. We live in a huge and diverse country and asking schools to be able to - across the board - have everyone in the same place at the same time is a little crazy.
Background from the NY Times:
The Obama administration proposed a sweeping overhaul of the law in March 2010 that would encourage states to raise academic standards after a period of dumbing-down, end the identification of tens of thousands of reasonably managed schools as failing, refocus energies on turning around the few thousand schools that are in the worst shape and help states develop more effective ways of evaluating the work of teachers and principals, among other goals. But efforts to address the problem have gained little traction in Congress, where several attempts since 2007 to rewrite the sprawling law have failed.
The standardized tests developed by the states under the No Child law focus on measuring the number of students in each grade level in each school who are proficient in reading and math. The administration would like to shift the focus to measuring each student's academic growth, regardless of the performance level at which he starts.
Since the law was signed, educators have complained loudly that it was branding tens of thousands of schools as failing but not forcing them to change. Teachers' groups disliked the emphasis on preparation for now-crucial exams that the law brought. Many Democrats, including Senator Kennedy, complained bitterly that Mr. Bush had reneged on a promise to provide more federal aid to help low-scoring schools improve. Some states, led by Utah, sought to rebel against the law's strictures. And with every new round of data, academics debated whether new scores showed the bill's impact, positive or negative.
In October 2009, the latest results on the most important nationwide math test — The National Assessment of Educational Progress — showed that student achievement grew faster during the years before the No Child Left Behind law, when states dictated most education policy. Scores increased only marginally for eighth graders and not at all for fourth graders, continuing a sluggish six-year trend of slowing achievement growth since passage of the law.
For two years, backed by a friendly Congress and flush with federal stimulus money, the Obama administration enjoyed a relatively obstacle-free path for its education agenda, the focus of which is the $4 billion Race to the Top grant program, which benefited school systems nationwide. But with the Republicans taking control of the House in 2011, the odds appeared dim that the two sides would be able to come together on any sweeping overhaul of the entire law. Instead, House Republicans planned to push a piecemeal approach, carving out areas of agreement.
Mr. Duncan has said his plan would not undermine what Congress is doing because the waivers could serve as a bridge until Congress acts.
According to a new research report, 31,737 of the 98,916 schools missed the law's testing goals in 2009, vastly more than any level of government can help to improve.
For me there is one big issue - we have 50 state tests. There is NO way that we, as a nation, can accurately say how our students are doing with 50 tests.
Of course, this will never happen and it's one of issues that may slow down the ed reform train: education is a local control issue. You can say as much as you want from a national level, that charters would be good everywhere and ditto on TFA, teacher assessments, etc. but, in the end, states and communities want to enact what they believe is best for their students.
What is good about this push by Obama is putting the focus on the 5,000 worst schools and turning them around. It had come out a couple of years back that there were specific high schools that continued to churn out the most drop-outs so focusing on those who truly are underperforming on a long-term basis is a good idea.
But what we are facing is a lot of long-term work that needs money and most of all, time. And time isn't on anyone's agenda as a given. Not parents for whom the time is now for their child (and rightly so), not education advocates who want different things and especially not Congress and the public who want progress now. Somehow this country got a bit adrift and now we are scrambling to do better in a short period of time.
I think it can't happen for several reasons.
One, money. Despite what many think, it does take money to educate children. Also, we are now a very technology-driven country and that certainly has filtered down to our schools. There is a huge cost to all this technology and it is on-going.
Two, is it realistic to think you can turn an entire educational system around in a couple of years? No, but I do think it IS realistic to think you can focus schools that are consistently underperforming and turn them around.
Three, and this one is sad, I'm not sure the elected leadership in this country is willing to unite and get it done. What we see now is a polarized Congress and, with the 2012 Presidential election coming up, I think Congress will be even less inclined to work hard on this issue.
So what's next? States have until the end of the year to ask for waivers. The main target will be the 100% proficiency goal and more flexibility on the use of federal dollars.
An irony here is that the only thing that Congress has shown bipartisanship on is expansion of charter schools. There is a bill that gives about $250M for new charters and addresses some quality control issues.
I hear the train a'comin' and it's sounding the arrival of charters.