Michael Petrilli

Washington Insiders Favor ESEA Flexibility in Theory but Not in Reality

Everybody in Washington claims they favor more flexibility in federal education policy. They want to be “tight on results” and “loose on how to get there.” They agree that No Child Left Behind “went too far” in putting Uncle Sam in the middle of complicated and nuanced decisions.

Or so they say, until push comes to shove. And then many of the players discover that they don’t like flexibility after all. They want to change federal policy in theory but not in reality.

It’s not just the President’s bizarre State of the Union request that states raise their compulsory attendance age to 18. (Perhaps that would help to trim the dropout rate, though the studies suggesting so rely on 40-year-old data.) I’m assuming that he was merely using the bully pulpit to promote a pet idea, not suggesting a new federal mandate.

No, I’m referring to the Army of the Potomac’s reaction to John Kline’s ESEA proposal and to Chairman Tom Harkin’s and Rep. George Miller’s response to the waiver requests put forward by several states.

In both cases, we hear somber leaders express concern that the moves will “undermine the core American value of equality of opportunity in education” and move away from “the critically important gains for our students’ civil rights and educational equity that NCLB achieved.”

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