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Previewing Obama’s NCLB Waiver Announcement

By Michele McNeil — September 22, 2011 1 min read
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President Barack Obama tomorrow will unveil long-awaited details of what states will have to do to gain some flexibility under No Child Left Behind.

Let’s recap what we already know, although the White House and Education Department could have made last-minute changes. And it will be interesting to see just what kind of changes officials do end up making.

This will likely be an all-or-nothing waiver package, with states having to sign up for three kinds of waivers. And, in exchange, states would have to adopt certain policies or reform conditions. Over the summer, Politics K-12 detailed what those waivers would likely involve: waiving the 2014 deadline for 100 percent proficiency in exchange for adopting college- and career-ready standards; freezing the system of NCLB sanctions (including not having to provide tutoring and choice) in exchange for states’ proposing their own accountability systems; and waiving the law’s highly qualified teacher provision in exchange for states’ creating evaluation systems based in part on student growth.

Later, we learned that the college- and career-ready standards states will have to adopt do not necessarily have to be the Common Core.

We also know that the waiver applications will be peer reviewed by judges outside of the department in a process Duncan has called “public” with a lot of “give and take.”

We also know that some members of Congress are none-too-happy about this idea. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a key GOP lawmaker on K-12 issues, sponsored a bill clarifying that Duncan doesn’t have the authority to do conditional waivers.

As we wait for details, here are questions to ponder: Which states will not seek a waiver? Which states will be denied a waiver, a tricky proposition in an election year? How will the department enforce a law they’ve called “broken” for those who don’t want or get a waiver? Because of the requirements, which states are automatically ineligible, barring some big policy change? Are Race to the Top states a shoe-in? Who will be peer reviewers?

It’s also interesting to note that this waiver announcement has risen to the level of being delivered by the President, in the White House. Obama hasn’t had any big victories lately, so as ESEA reauthorization stalls in Congress, this gives him a chance to swoop in to help states, schools, and teachers better deal with a law that’s becoming very unpopular.