Remember the lack of talk about national education policy in the run-up to the presidential election? It seems you can prepare for more of the same.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has outlined his vision for the Obama administration’s second term, and according to a couple of good analyses, there isn’t much that’s new. Nor is there any more of the federal stimulus money that Duncan used to induce cash-strapped states to adopt some of his policy prescriptions in the first.
Lacking both a stick and a carrot, what does Duncan plan to do? Fine-tune the initiatives of the first term, he said in an address to the Council of Chief State School Officers last week, with a greater emphasis on early-childhood education and college affordability and accessibility, and more waivers from NCLB, which he acknowledged is not “optimal.”
The problem, he told an audience of policymakers who sounded nonplussed at best, is the congressional gridlock that seems likely to prevent anything as sweeping as the overhaul of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Widely acknowledged as a failure on most levels, the nation’s guiding education reform initiative expired in 2007.
After two years of fruitless political posturing, Duncan and Capitol Republicans stalled on its renewal a year and a half ago. Without a new law, schools throughout the country — many of them high-performing — were facing serious consequences.
So Duncan end-ran U.S. Rep. John Kline, the Lakeville Republican who chairs the powerful House Education and the Workforce Committee, by handing out administrative waivers. Minnesota is one of 30 states that have obtained waivers so far; several more are in the pipeline.
Unless Congress demonstrates a “real commitment,” Duncan told the state policymakers, there’s not much he can do. For his part, Kline bemoaned the White House’s lack of re-engagement.
Perhaps because this particular finger-pointing contest is three years old, advocates on both sides of the aisle are rolling their eyes.
“The administration needs to figure out what they want,” Charles Barone, legislative director at Democrats for Education Reform, told Huffington Post. “They’ve been hedgy.”