Bye-bye, NCLB. Hello … what?

The Obama administration has released its blueprint for education reform and revising Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB). I haven’t read through it yet myself, but I’m looking forward to it. The New York Times summarizes some groups’ reactions well:

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said of the proposal, “From everything that we’ve seen, this blueprint places 100 percent of the responsibility on teachers and gives them zero percent of the authority.”

That kind of hyperbole is clearly not meant literally, and I really doubt if the teachers’ unions are going to leave the negotiating table this early in the game. The bill isn’t even in committee yet! This seems like the kind of thing people say to vent and to signal members of Congress about their desire for some sweetener in the final mark-up. My guess is the unions stay on board for quite a while longer.

This next complaint, from civil rights lawyers and academics, seems much more serious:

Christopher Edley Jr., a former Clinton administration official who is dean of the law school at the University of California, Berkeley, and an expert on civil rights law, said a briefing document he read had left him concerned about the administration’s direction. “I worry about retreating from the notion of quality education as a civil right,” Mr. Edley said. “N.C.L.B. had some good sticks in it to compel equity. I’m alarmed by the frequent references to ‘incentives,’ and the apparent intention to reduce the federal role in forcing compliance.”

Lots of smart education policy experts really like the direction NCLB took in making educational equity a civil rights issue. I tend to agree with them. Incentivizing and nudging are all great, but maintaining the credible threat of nasty federal intervention can be a useful tool, too. Institutional inertia, especially in education, is such that we shouldn’t be restricting our approach to just budgetary carrots and sticks. Enterprising education rights lawyers and state and federal government lawyers need tools that can help in litigation, if it comes to that. I haven’t read the Administration’s proposals yet, so I can’t say whether Mr. Edley’s concerns are warranted or not, but I’m interested to find out.

Finally, this complaint from a Republican congressperson seems pretty vacuous:

Representative John Kline of Minnesota, the top Republican on the House education committee, was also skeptical. “From 30,000 feet, the blueprint seems to set a lot of right goals,” Mr. Kline said. “Yet when we drill down to the details, we are looking at a heavier federal hand than many of us wish to see.”

Maybe that means that the administration focuses too much on federal power and authority in pursuing educational goal, when it would be better to take a more decentralized approach … or maybe it means that Rep. Kline has two very conflicting goals: improving educational quality and equity in America, and never doing anything with the power of the federal government. I guess it’s hard to decide the issue at first glance, but my hunch is that, taking the long view, it’s hard to conclude that too much federal control has created our underperforming education system. Exactly how would Rep. Kline like to meet the goals of the president’s proposal — which Kline says he supports — without using the ‘heavy hand’ of the federal government?


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This is a group blog. JSC5 currently writes from the US. JSC7 writes from behind the Great Firewall of China.

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