The Federal Game of “Duncan May I?”

In the June 15, 2013  GOP weekly radio address Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former U.S. education secretary who now serves as the Senate education committee’s ranking member sad,

“..we have a major disagreement about who should be in charge of our one hundred thousand public schools that educate fifty million American children.   To put it simply,  Democrats want a national school board; Republicans favor local control.  Over the last decade the United States department of Education has become so congested with federal mandates that is actually become in effect a national school board.

If you remember the childhood game Mother May I then you have a pretty good sense of how the process works. States must come to Washington for approval of their plans to educate their  students.   This congestion of mandates is caused by three things:  No Child Left Behind,  Race To The Top and the administration’s use of waivers…”

Setting aside the fact that notable Republicans like Governor Snyder and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush support Common Core which effectively ends local control, Senator Alexander is spot on.    Waivers have become a key tool in the administration’s education reform toolbox.

This week, Duncan sent a letter to state school chiefs telling them,

“that our administration is open to requests for flexibility with the deadline for implementing new systems of evaluating principals and teachers. States that request and are given this flexibility can delay any personnel consequences for teachers and principals tied to the new assessments for up to one year, until 2016-17.”

I also want to address the issue of “double-testing,” which will arise during the 2013-2014 school year, when some schools will field test new assessments…we are open to any state impacted by double-testing to request a one-year waiver to allow schools that participate in a field test to have students take only one end-of-year test.

Duncan granted a one-year waiver to select California schools field testing the Smarter Balanced Assessment aligned with the Common Core Standards.

Duncan’s willingness to eliminate double-testing next year for grades 3 through 8 and grade 11 will provide relief for students facing the prospect of two tests of six to eight hours each – perhaps longer for Smarter Balanced – and for teachers faced with teaching two sets of standards, one state and one national.

To some the waivers are creating a creating confusion and incoherence,

“It puts districts in a weird spot,” said Kate Tromble, legislative director of the Education Trust, a lobbying and advocacy group that often aligns with the Obama administration. “You could have to explain to parents, ‘I’m holding two-thirds of the schools accountable but not yours.’ That’s not something I’d want to explain.”

Some expect these waivers will just lead to further incoherence. “You could have a teacher teaching the Common Core in the morning but old standards in the afternoon, which is a profound waste of time,” said Daria Hall, EdTrust’s K-12 director.

A call placed to the Michigan Department of Education to find out if they will seek the federal waivers  has not been returned. Michigan has sought and received federal waivers in the past.

Message from Superintendent Flanagan

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Good morning,

We received great news late yesterday as our application for flexibility to No Child Left Behind was approved by the U.S. Department of Ed….

…We will be reviewing the approval letter from the feds today and sending out to you more detail in a memo tomorrow morning. But this is big news for schools and students across Michigan

It’s time for Governor Snyder and Michigan lawmakers to decide whether to finally admit that the Common Core Standards and Smarter Balanced Assessments are not entirely “state-led” or cut the apron strings and quit playing the federal game of “Duncan May I.”    This game can be fun for a while but eventually it gets old when the same person always gets to be the mother.

duncan snyder 471-050613
Photo Credit: Detroit News