U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan perhaps reached his breaking point in early June when he gave Congress an ultimatum to fix No Child Left Behind or he would begin issuing waivers to districts facing sanctions under the bill. Education advocacy groups, including the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) and the National School Boards Association (NSBA), have been campaigning for this form of regulatory relief since it became clear that reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—NCLB's formal title—would not occur by the upcoming school year. The bill, which has not been revised since it was enacted in 2002, maintains that all students must be proficient by 2014.
Michael Resnick, associate executive director of NSBA, says the organization is "heartened" by Duncan's decision, but he wonders what provisions will be lifted, what reform models districts will have to comply with in exchange for relief, and whether any applications for relief will be approved before the start of school. "We have some real doubts as to whether this process will reach the local level in time," says Resnick.
Duncan first put pressure on Congress in March when he said that under NCLB's current guidelines, 82 percent of schools will face sanctions in the upcoming school year for failing to make Adequate Yearly Progress. With August recess around the corner, Congress has made minimal progress by addressing individual provisions of the bill. Waivers, however, are also not ideal in many minds. In a joint conference call between AASA and NSBA on May 25, the executive director of AASA, Daniel Domenech, said that waivers in exchange for proof of reform require schools to "jump through more hoops." In the same call, Anne Bryant, executive director of NSBA, said she'd prefer that Duncan provide relief "as a matter of policy and not a case-by-case basis. It's pretty darn simple to give the relief and stop labeling schools as failing."
In terms of actually reauthorizing ESEA, most agree that when it's done, it should be done right, with input from the public to prevent the same problems that occurred with NCLB.
"In the long run, that was the problem with NCLB," says Resnick. "What made sense then around the negotiating table didn't really pass the reality test."