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Duncan Calls for Bipartisan ESEA Renewal

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took to the op-ed pages of the Washington Post today to explain to the world that, while Washington may be divided on just about everything, K-12 policy can be one area of bipartisan agreement.

After all, he writes, pretty much everyone agrees that the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, has some problems, including that it "labels schools as failures, even when they are making broad gains" and doesn't account for individual student progress, just growth towards an "arbitrary level of proficiency."

And he says he talked to "hundreds of Republican and Democratic mayors, governors, and members of Congress. ... While we don't agree on everything, our core goals are shared - and we want to fix NCLB to better support school reform at the state and local level."

The op-ed itself contains no policy surprises. Folks familiar with the administration's proposals for revising the law and his stump speech can sing along—they know the words.

Duncan talked about the work that has already occurred on standards and improving assessments. And he mentioned a trickier area: gauging teacher effectiveness through student outcomes (as well as peer review and principal evaluations.) But he's said all of this publicly before.

So why does the op-ed actually matter? It's yet another signal that the administration may be gearing up for a big push to revise the law. The administration could have had the Secretary of, say, energy, calling for a climate change bill in the paper today, but this was Duncan's moment.

Of course, the administration also made a push for ESEA renewal last year that didn't pan out. So will it work this year? Tough to say.

The administration's blue-print for revising the law, which was released last March, got a smattering of hearings in both houses, and then stalled, because of the health care bill and other factors. Staff and members continued to talk for months, but the reauthorization never got very far. Duncan says in his op-ed that legislative language was drafted and shared at the staff level, although it's tough to say just how much the election results could scuttle any tentative agreements, particularly in the House of Representatives, which has an almost all-new line up on the education committee.

But I'd expect to hear at least a little more than usual about "our children's future", schools, good teachers, and bipartisanship in the upcoming President's State of the Union address.

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