Tired of Republican Stonewalling, Obama Pushes Ahead On Education Law Waivers

Our guest blogger is Theodora Chang, an education policy analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Today, White House officials announced that the administration will provide waivers to states to encourage continued education reform and ease the burden of the most outdated provisions of the existing education law (No Child Left Behind). While states will have to wait another month to learn the specifics of the administration’s proposal, President Obama’s willingness to push education reform past congressional gridlock is necessary.

Early signs of hope for reauthorizing NCLB are long gone, leaving a largely broken piece of legislation. In spite of the growing need to fix the law, which the president and administration officials have recognized for months, Congress has been slow to move on the issue. After the recent debt ceiling debacle, Democrats in Congress now agree that there is little chance for a bi-partisan reauthorization, and they are backing the administration’s move toward waivers. However, Rep. John Kline (R-MN), Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, continues to argue that Congress is not the problem:

“I remain concerned that temporary measures instituted by the department, such as conditional waivers, could undermine the committee’s efforts to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” Kline said in a statement.

While the law illuminated serious achievement gaps by requiring better data collection and reporting, it also created sanctions for districts and states that fail to meet their targets. Under NCLB, states set their own achievement targets and academic standards, and they are expected to get nearly all students proficient in reading and math by 2014. One significant issue is that the law fails to adequately recognize states and districts making remarkable strides in student growth and sometimes even encourages states to adopt lower standards.

Regardless of the exact waiver process, it will be critical for the Department of Education to preserve an emphasis on accountability and disaggregated student data. It will also be crucial for reform efforts to continue focusing on teacher effectiveness and school improvement. The goal of these waivers should be to provide concrete but temporary solutions while reformers continue to push for more permanent fixes through reauthorization.

Republican lethargy on education has left it up to the White House to take action. With the clock ticking toward the first day of school, the Obama administration has wisely concluded that further progress will require solutions from a branch of government that is capable of acting – and it’s clearly not going to be Congress anytime soon.