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District Advocates Not Fans of Duncan's NCLB Waiver Ideas

We still don't know for sure what shape the Department of Education's soon-to-be-issued waivers from parts of the No Child Left Behind Act will take. But Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has made one thing clear: This is not going to be straight-up relief without any strings. The waivers will come with conditions attached.

That has two major district advocacy groups—the American Association of School Administrators and the National School Boards Association—feeling pretty cranky with the Secretary. They argue that, essentially, if the department wants to provide some relief from NCLB, they should do it on a state-by-state, case-by-case basis. The groups point to the recent change to Idaho's accountability plan as one model.

The groups sent a letter to Duncan saying as much.

The letter makes some interesting points. While the department is offering these waivers to states, it's really districts that are implementing the NCLB law, and therefore, districts that need the relief, the groups write. They worry there could be districts out there who would like a waiver, but can't do anything unless their states apply. It's an interesting argument, but, since some of the pieces of the law, such as standards, are supposed to be set by states, I'm not sure how district-level waivers would work. What do you think?

The letter also says that the conditional waivers are likely to come with mandates and it will be difficult for cash-strapped states to comply. Do you think AASA and NSBA are jumping the gun here, since we haven't actually seen the plan? Or are extra costs a safe assumption?

Also, the groups say that they don't see any non-Race to the Top winning/applying states going after the waivers. I'm not sure what they're driving at here, since pretty much every single state applied, at some point, for Race to the Top. The only holdouts were Alaska,Texas, Vermont, and North Dakota. Still, plenty of states have had a major change in leadership (like a new governor or a new state chief) since the competition, so it's tough to say what the new folks in place think of the policies the program pushed.

Edu-policy nerds, what do you think? Are Duncan's conditional waivers a good idea, or do you like the more targeted approach NSBA/AASA are shopping?

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