On Saturday, the Washington Post featured an op ed by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings declaring her "willingness to work with states to make [NCLB] fit their unique local needs." Today, Spellings will announce-at a special meeting with state chiefs at Mount Vernon, near Washington-the particulars of the plan, which will include allowing states that can prove they've made progress toward closing achievement gaps greater flexibility on how to move special education, ESL, and other subgroups toward proficiency. The Post also reports that the choice provision will be revised or relaxed and perhaps made the second intervention, after SES. Doubtless sensing an opportunity to promote their respective "unique local needs," a gaggle of states, including Utah, Florida, New Jersey, and Texas, have already submitted a litany of complaints. And one state, at least, remains recalcitrant: the same day the New York Times editorialized that "the core part of the [NCLB] law . . . must remain sacrosanct, and the Bush administration must stand firm against districts that simply don't want to make the effort," Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced that the Constitution State will be the first to file a federal lawsuit challenging NCLB on its face. This after they've already been denied waivers several times (see "Playing Chicken on NCLB" for details on Connecticut's "woes"). Meanwhile, the Department is still negotiating with Utah (see "Rebellion in Utah"). What to make of all this? As always, the devil is in the details. If the Department can come up with a reasonable, objective measure of "progress towards proficiency," it might make sense to cut some slack for states that are truly making significant progress. But if the entire process degenerates into backroom negotiating where states that whine the loudest get breaks-always a possibility-this move could sound the death knell of NCLB. And while placing the choice provision after SES as an intervention is a promising proposal, if the provision is watered down or rendered even more toothless than it already is, we believe that will be a drastic mistake. Giving up on choice means surrendering the most effective stick the Department has to compel improvement. We certainly hope the Department would not commit hari-kari in this way. Strange as it sounds for Gadfly to say, the Times put it best: The federal government "cannot backtrack because early progress has been rocky. If Washington wavers and begins to cut deals with recalcitrant states . . . the effort to remake the country's public schools will fail."
"Our high schools need help," by Margaret Spellings, Washington Post, April 2, 2005
"New Rules for 'No Child' Law Planned," by Michael Dobbs, Washington Post, April 7, 2005
"Tensions increase in standoff over No Child Left Behind," by Mike Cronin, Salt Lake Tribune, April 2, 2005
"U.S. to change No Child Left Behind law," Associated Press, April 5, 2005
"State may sue feds over 'No Child' law," by Linda Conner Lambeck, Connecticut Post, April 5, 2005
"Fixing 'No Child Left Behind,'" New York Times, April 5, 2005