Upon taking office in February, Secretary Spellings explained her views on NCLB flexibility to Education Week: "There is room to maneuver through the administrative process without waivers. But this 'waive everything' - no. That's a slippery slope." Well, either she has changed her mind or she's discovered she likes slopes or she doesn't consider the law's parental options provisions central to its working. Last week she issued to the Commonwealth of Virginia her first waiver, which allows four districts there to provide underachieving students supplemental services before affording them public school choice. Wednesday, she granted the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) authority to provide tutoring (i.e. "supplemental educational services") directly even though the district has been deemed "in need of improvement." The Virginia decision makes sense; it's hard to find anyone who thinks that low-income children should have to suffer through three years of school failure before they have a shot at free tutoring. But the Chicago call is a disaster; CPS already failed these kids during the school day. Why give the district a chance to fail them again after the bell rings? One of the seminal mistakes in NCLB was Congress's decision to allow districts both to provide "supplemental services" directly and to serve as gate-keeper for other providers. To its credit, the Education Department mitigated that folly by ruling earlier that districts "in need of improvement" lose the option of being direct providers. This Chicago waiver undoes that sound policy and thereby weakens the educational prospects of thousands of children.

"Virginia Gets First-Ever Waiver to Reverse Order of NCLB Sanctions," by Lynn Olson, Education Week, August 29, 2005 (Subscription required)

"Spellings to Listen, But Not Retreat, on NCLB," by Erik W. Robelen and Lynn Olson, Education Week, February 9, 2005 (Subscription required) 

"Chicago to Get Relaxed Tutoring Rule," by Ben Feller, Chicago Sun-Times, August 30, 2005

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