03232012 - AD - Delaware 28
Rejecting Iowa's waiver: political courage or political suicide?
Photo by US Department of Education.

With barely four months to go until Election Day, every single Obama administration decision is inevitably viewed through the prism of presidential politics. Which is why Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s rejection of a request from Iowa for flexibility under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is particularly perplexing. Do Duncan and the White House politicos not understand that he’s handing Mitt Romney a handy campaign issue in an up-for-grabs state? What’s most remarkable is the reason the administration is turning down Iowa’s waiver request: Because the state legislature refuses to enact a statewide teacher-evaluation plan. As you may recall, such evaluations are one of the mandates (er, conditions) placed on states that want flexibility from ESEA’s broken accountability requirements. And as many of us have argued, such conditions are patently illegal. There’s nothing in ESEA that indicates that the Secretary has the authority to demand such conditions be met in order for waiver requests to be approved. Expect Governor Romney to talk up this issue the next time he’s in the Hawkeye State as yet another example of executive overreach and federal micromanagement. Iowans love their schools and their teachers; it’s not going to be hard to paint this as a classic case of Washington bureaucrats gone wild.

A version of this article appeared as a blog post on Flypaper.

RELATED ARTICLE: “Iowa Turned Down for ESEA Waiver,” by Alyson Klein, Politics K-12—Education Week, June 21, 2012.

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