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From State of the Union to Pizza as a Vegetable...A Year in Review

By Michele McNeil — December 29, 2011 3 min read
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Maybe we should call 2011 the Year of the Waive?

After all, many of the big events that headlined 2011 involved the push to reauthorize ESEA, the recognition that the legislation was indeed going nowhere, and finally the acknowledgment that the accountability landscape would temporarily but significantly change as the Obama administration granted waivers under No Child Left Behind. Meanwhile, edu-consultants continued to get work helping organizations with federal grant competitions, including Race to the Top. And, to end the year, the U.S. Department of Education delivered a stern letter to Hawaii threatening to take its Race to the Top money back after the state failed to hit key milestones.

But here were readers’ favorite news items, as measured by the number of page views logged:

1. “Obama Makes Education a State of the Union Centerpiece,” Jan. 25: President Obama called on Congress to “replace” No Child Left Behind with something that looks more like Race to the Top. Lawmakers have yet to take him up on that one.
2. “Obama Gives Go-Ahead for NCLB Waivers to States,” Aug. 8: With no more stimulus money left to hand out and reauthorization of ESEA stalled in Congress, Education Secretary Arne Duncan figures out how he can further influence education policy—by using broad waiver authority under NCLB to demand changes in exchange for flexibility under the law. The Obama administration, which had already telegraphed that it was going to grant waivers to states, strung us along for quite awhile and didn’t actually reveal the all-important details of how the waivers would work until six weeks later.
3.“Obama Administration Sets Rules for NCLB Waivers,” Sept. 22: The administration’s long-awaited waiver package gave states options on setting goals for student achievement, and called for new teacher evaluation systems. But it remains to be seen if the waiver plan will live up to the administration’s promise to “unleash innovation.”
4. “Stopgap Spending Bill Severs Array of Education Programs,” March 3: Congress followed through on promises to cut spending, by slashing more than a dozen K-12 programs, including money for popular national nonprofits, such as Teach for America and the National Writing Project.
5. “Duncan: Teacher Salaries Should Be $60,000 to $150,000,” July 29: There was a lot of wishful thinking in this speech, especially given the tight budget constraints states are facing. But the eye-grabbing salary figures surely helped make this item a reader favorite.
6. “Senate ESEA Draft Bill Would Scrap Adequate Yearly Progress,” Oct. 11: Finally, after more than four years of waiting, lawmakers introduced a bill to renew the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. The bipartisan bill got voted out of committee, but, for now, it’s headed nowhere and states are looking to waivers for relief.
7. “Are 82% of Schools ‘Failing’ Under NCLB, as Duncan Warned?,” Aug. 3: Politics K-12 was very, very skeptical when Arne Duncan claimed that 82 percent of schools would be failing this year if NCLB was allowed to continue. This post began to lay out the facts—that the failure rates being reported weren’t coming anywhere near that high number.
8. “New Race to Top Stresses Pre-K Tests, Early Ed. Program Ratings,” July 1: Race to the Top has become a very popular brand for the Obama administration. This was the announcement of rules for a new $500 million competition for states to improve early learning, which emphasized the hot-button issue of testing prekindergarteners. Controversy is never bad for gaining Internet traffic.
9. “Debt Ceiling Deal: Big Questions for K-12,” Aug. 1: Congress finally reaches an agreement to raise the debt ceiling by creating a “supercommittee” charged with making long-term deficit reduction recommendations. But the panel never reached agreement, and now draconian cuts to domestic spending are set to kick in. It’s sure to be a hot topic of debate in 2012.
10. ““Is Pizza a Vegetable? In School Lunches, Congress Says Yes,” Nov. 15: Say what!!??