Executive action or political grandstanding?


According to the White House’s plan, the goal is to support state and local reform efforts with college and career ready standards, teacher and principal evaluation programs, and accountability and reporting systems. The White House hopes to prioritize a state’s lowest performing schools – those in the bottom five percent – and will focus on an additional 10 percent of schools that are low performing based on their graduation rates, achievement gaps, and subgroup performance. These schools will be required to propose school turnaround plans. Related to teachers and principals, the states will be required to set basic guidelines for evaluation systems based on student progress.

If the White House means what it says, then there is actually much room for agreement with Republicans. Senate Republicans proposed a bill on waivers, before the White House’s plan was released, which highlights also a need for procedural transparency including a peer review process, though the Republicans’ plan limits the Department of Education’s ability to attach requirements to receive waivers, thus checking the Secretary of Education’s power.

The Senate Republicans’ bill also encouraged college and career ready goals while allowing states to decide on their own standards. They have proposed completely eliminating federal labels of schools and NCLB’s adequate yearly progress (AYP) targets as well. Miraculously, the Senate Republicans and the President agree to focus on the bottom five percent of schools in states, and for states to implement a school turnaround strategy. They agree to focus on flexibility for states in determining teacher and principal evaluation systems based on student growth. All parties also want more flexibility in transferring funds between funding streams.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), leading the Senate effort to fix NCLB, indicated the bi-partisanship they have shown, saying “While all the sponsors of this legislation are Republican senators, many of the ideas were either first advanced or have been worked on in concert with Mr. Obama; his excellent education secretary, Arne Duncan; and Democratic colleagues in both the House and the Senate.”

And the White House claims to be ready to work with Republicans. “The President and Secretary Duncan are ready to work with Congress to fix NCLB in a bipartisan way,” according to the White House’s plan.

If this is the case, then why delay fixing NCLB any longer?

The President has cut class to play political games. The President needs to show us that he has read the Federalist Papers and that he respects the legislative process over his backdoor executive gimmicks.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in a letter to Secretary Duncan, wrote, “Since legislating is a duty reserved for Congress, attaching administration-preferred reforms to NCLB waivers would counteract and inhibit meaningful education reform desperately needed to ensure that our children receive an education that will prepare them for the challenging global economic marketplace.”

A wise leader once said that, “there is no limit to what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit.”

Abandon the vanity and politicking if you care as much for America’s students as you say you do, Mr. President. Translate the euphonious language into practical results. We don’t need more oration; we need action. Let’s get to work. School has already started.

Annie Hsiao is the director of education policy at the American Action Forum. 

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