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NCLB: The Reauthorization We Could Be Having [Now]

PredictingthefutureAs this lame duck Congress wraps up and energy builds towards a new Congress and a second Obama term in office, I can't help but wishing that reauthorizing NCLB was something that was on everyone's first order of business for January and February. Instead, the states are running off  into the woods with their NCLB waivers, Duncan chasing behind them with letters reminding them of their vague promises to uphold the spirit of NCLB.

Of course, the Obama folks didn't know if they'd get another term, and nobody knew whether the NCLB reauthorization that came out of the current (old) Congress would be any good. To be fair, the same thing got done to the DREAMers, who are now in the same kind of political and policy limbo as NCLB.

But still, it could have been different -- should have been, I'd argue.  

The Obama administration could have built momentum around the need to revamp NCLB during 2010 and 2011 -- without going along with the sky-is-falling stuff coming from the states about AYP failure rates.  Perhaps a modified AYP labeling scheme would have helped states with the labeling problem -- I proposed one of these long ago.  They had Obamacare and the Stimulus.  They didn't need another domestic win.  The teachers didn't need waivers, particularly.  The White House could still have run against Congress.  Then, they'd now be in the driver's seat. 

Instead, the Obama administration made two big mistakes -- overstating the negative impacts of NCLB (in terms of AYP failure rates and states "racing to the bottom") and going along with the waiver scheme (whomever's to blame for pushing this crappy idea inside the USDE or White House, I have a beef with you).  Almost inevitably, these mistakes created a situation in which something "had to be done" and waivers were the easiest way to do it.

What I still don't know or understand:  Who was the most persuasive or effective proponent of the waiver scheme outside the administration, and who was the main proponent among senior staff at the White House or USDE who went along?  What kind of wizardry/groupthink caused this utterly avoidable outcome to happen? 


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