Education Secretary Arne Duncan dropped a bombshell on educators and Congress alike last week when he announced that the Education Department would pursue changes to the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act through regulations if Congress doesn't get its act together and reauthorize the law.
If states agree to a set of criteria that the administration is preparing, they will receive waivers from some of the more onerous requirements under the current law. All states will be eligible, but accountability will continue to be preserved, agency officials say. The waiver offer is not meant to be a competition between states like the Race to the Top program, but the principles guiding the waivers probably will be similar to the grant program. Duncan dubbed the regulations "Plan B," effectively a backup to "Plan A" in which Congress reauthorizes the law. But he also said the regulations and lawmaking could occur simultaneously, potentially causing even more confusion among states and educators. Still, Duncan makes a valid point: "We need to make these changes on real-people time, not Washington time."
Can Duncan's plan work? What can be gained by offering waivers to states instead of redrafting their obligations under a new law? What does the administration risk losing by turning to regulations? How does Duncan's announcement impact the negotiations in Congress? Is it more or less likely now that Congress will be able to finalize a new law?