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Unions Assail Duncan's NCLB 'Regulatory Relief' Scheme

Neither the National Education Association nor the American Federation of Teachers is a big fan of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's plan to offer relief from certain parts of the No Child Left Behind Law, in exchange for adopting a "basket" of reform strategies.

As the strongest critics of the now 9-year-old law, the teachers' unions should, in theory, like the idea of regulatory relief. After all, both unions, in 2008, endorsed a proposal to excuse states and districts from carrying out the required interventions for schools that repeatedly fail to make "adequate yearly progress." (The language never ended up going anywhere, despite efforts by its sponsors to attach it to a must-pass appropriations bill.)

So what gives? Let's look at each union in turn.

"Secretary Duncan has acknowledged the need to intervene if Congress doesn't act, but he's clearly signaled that any relief would be coupled with more unmanageable hurdles for schools and students," NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said in a statement. "Relief that is not provided to every school and every student isn't relief; it's just more of the same bad patchwork quilt of disparities in our education system."

Translation: NEA wants the whole law waived, no strings attached! Something tells me that if Duncan were attaching strings like class-size reductions rather than the Race to the Top-like reforms he's likely to favor, this press release might have read differently.

[UPDATE (June 16): NEA folks clarified that the union doesn't technically want the whole law waived. It wants to see changes such as multiple measures for AYP, the end of the 2014 deadline, resetting of the sanctions cascade, etc. But, those changes would amount to a wholly different kind of law from what's in place now.]

The AFT, meanwhile, hasn't put out a formal statement on the plan. But an event held earlier this week by the Center for American Progress, AFT President Randi Weingarten said she was very concerned about a "blanket waiver" process.

"I think it creates a disincentive to get the law reauthorized," she said. "... The worst thing that happened with NCLB was not having the accountability system, but the fact that we got wrong the incentives, because very little of the system was about the hows and about building capacity. It became a test-prep law in many instances as opposed to a teaching law."

She went on to say that a revised law should not put accountability solely on teachers.

Translation: AFT probably feels like it's more likely to get changes to its liking through a rewrite than through a waivers-and-strings approach. It's certainly true that new Republican and Democratic lawmakers have a really different take on the law than did the bipartisan coalition that oversaw its passage.

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