You have to give the White House credit for giving fair warning about last week's end-run around Congress on education. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the idea last June, and there were whispers of their "Plan B" waiver process months before that. President Obama rolled out with fanfare the administration's announcement that 10 states would be granted waivers to No Child Left Behind as long as they pursue their own school improvement plans, which were peer-reviewed and vetted by the Education Department. It's a certainty that more states will follow.
It is worthwhile to take a closer look at the waiver program because for now, it's the only game in town. The House and Senate aren't likely to reach agreement on a full-fledged Elementary and Secondary Education reauthorization any time soon. "This is not a one-year project. This isn't a two-year project. This is going to take some time," Obama said.
The waiver process is public, giving onlookers a window into how the program works. It is extensive. The Education Department appears to be focusing on vulnerable student subgroups and low-performing schools. For example, Colorado was asked to provide more information on how it would offer college- and career-ready curricula to English Language Learners and how it would push schools with low-performing subgroups to bring those students up to par. Florida agreed to intervene in all high schools with low graduation rates.
Do the waivers mark progress on the education front? Or are they a Band-Aid until Congress gets its act together? Do the state plans show innovation in areas where the federal government cannot tread? Are the state standards rigorous? What can states still seeking waivers learn from the initial winners?