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Idaho Will Defy NCLB, Schools' Chief Luna Tells Duncan

Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna is putting the feds on notice: His state will not follow key parts of the No Child Left Behind law anymore. Instead, Idaho will use its own accountability system.

In a June 21 letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Luna says Idaho will keep its proficiency targets at current levels rather than continue the onward march toward the 2014 goal for 100 percent proficiency for all students in math and reading. (For one example, Idaho's accountability plan said schools could be said to make adequate yearly progress if 89 percent of their students were proficient in math this year, up from 83 percent the year before. But under Luna's plan, the target would hold steady at 83 percent. Thanks to state officials for clarifying this for me.) In return, the state will implement a new accountability system based on student growth, Luna said. (As an aside, there is a formal growth model pilot program under NCLB, but the state doesn't appear to be interested in that. UPDATE: Idaho officials told me they didn't have the longitudinal data system to qualify at the time.)

"Idaho, like many other states, does not have the luxury of spending time and limited resources on meeting the rigid requirements of an outdated accountability system," Luna wrote. "If Congress and the Administration will not act, states like Idaho will."

Usually, states ask for a waiver to get out of NCLB's requirements. Idaho willfully has decided to flout the law.

It's been tried before. In 2005, when now-GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Jr. was Utah's governor, his state tried to do the same thing, but eventually backed down. Too much Title I money was at stake.

But things are different now. Duncan, who predicts 82 percent of schools will be labeled failing this year, has declared the law broken. If Congress does not rewrite it, he has said he will grant waivers to states to bypass its key components.

The Council of Chief State School Officers, (which now represents all states but Texas), plans to lead an orchestrated effort to flood the department with waiver requests that would allow states to use their own accountability models, which would be based on a common framework.

Kentucky is out in front on this, and already has asked for permission (unlike the Idaho way of ask-forgiveness-not-permission) to use its own accountability model.

Duncan & Co., who so far have refused to articulate their waiver plan, are at risk of losing control of this debate over what happens to NCLB in the interim. Since they haven't gotten out in front of this issue, the states are doing so. And, if a bunch of states band together in defiance of NCLB and the feds, what will Duncan do about it, especially since he himself has admitted the law is fundamentally flawed?

I'm waiting for a response from the Education Department. It seems unlikely the department can just let states such as Idaho call their own shots and ignore the law. What it can do is spell out a plan for waivers, and quickly.

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