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NCLB Waivers: The Ultimate Ego Trip

The move by states to secure waivers to NCLB requirements is intended to provide more flexibility to their school districts so that – as the theory goes – states and communities can respond to mounting national pressure to deliver better education.

If only it were that easy.

The reality is that these chiefs – regardless of their interests, their power and their ideological leanings – cannot do any better than those in power before NCLB was enacted unless the incentives for change — and the consequences — are no longer voluntary.

True, we have witnessed a sea change with respect to state education policy at the hands of great Governors and school chiefs over time, only to then watch helplessly as it all turned around at the conclusion of a disappointing election cycle. NCLB was intended to finally shake up a system seemingly impervious to change in all but a few pockets of the country. It wasn’t a perfect law. No law is. It relied upon people of varied interests to respond to the challenge and the consequences clearly set forth.

Because of NCLB, we have learned more each year about the dismal state of education through data that, for the first time, was publicly available and disaggregated for all to see.

For decades, student achievement was masked behind the averaged results of a school – results that really meant very little. Good schools had money. Bad schools were impoverished. That’s what the public — and the policymakers — thought. NCLB data-demands unearthed real achievement data — and helped us to throw away the excuses that created a persistent achievement gap.

But instead of responding to the challenge (as we learned more and more each year about the dismal state of education) school districts and Supers began to fight back. They claimed they were being forced into a cookie cutter mode of education (which we’d been in for decades already) and we, the public, bought it. They said they had to teach to the test — teachers, school boards, Republicans and Democrats alike adopted this sentimental favorite turn of phrase to bend public opinion against the pressure to deliver results coming from DC.

And instead of holding the line, we now have states that really believe they could do better if they just had flexibility? Flexibility without a performance requirement? Flexibility without any consequence for failure?

It’s the ultimate ego trip. “I can do it better.”

History suggests otherwise.