No law left ignored?

Arne Duncan, the education secretary, just announced that he’s getting ready to waive No Child Left Behind requirements for states if they agree, as the New York Times put it, “to embrace President Obama’s education priorities, a formula the administration used last year in its signature education initiative, the Race to the Top grant competition.” Frederick Hess writes in Education Week:

So, let me get this straight. After barely convincing Congress to keep Race to the Top on life support, [Arne] Duncan is intent on unilaterally pushing his same pet priorities through the back door? He’s planning to offer regulatory relief only if states adopt reforms that are utterly absent in the relevant legislation? Facing backlash on the right and left over concerns that the administration coerced states to embrace test-driven teacher evaluation and the Common Core through Race to the Top, Duncan’s strategy is to double down? Well, no matter, I’m sure the Republican majority in the House will cheer Duncan’s enthusiastic willingness to lead. Or not…

The National Journal’s Fawn Johnson wrote, “President Obama has called for lawmakers to rewrite No Child Left Behind by the start of the new school year. Now he’s giving them the second warning before sending them to the principal’s office: Do your job or we’ll do it for you.” Now, I know the President is a Nobel Prize winner and all but, back when I was earning my Ph.D. in political science, I don’t remember anything that empowered the President to issue Congress legislative deadlines or usurp Congressional prerogatives if the administration’s timetable isn’t met. Sandy Kress, former Bush administration education adviser, observed, “I don’t get all the drama. It almost has the feel of a threat to Congress.”

At a time when Obama partisans are seeking to dismiss Tea Party critiques of administration moves on health care, auto bailouts, financial regulation, and the stimulus as conspiracy-minded lunacy, do they really not see that this is precisely the mindset that raises such hackles among critics? I’m curious whether any of the lawyers at ED tried to explain to Duncan that he’s not permitted to remake federal law on the fly, just because he and the President think it’s a good idea, or whether they’re cheerfully along for the ride.

After having turned the Common Core into a hot button issue by tying it to the Obama administration’s federal agenda–drawing fire from GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney in the process–you’d think Duncan would’ve been more attentive to the signals he’s sending. You’d have been wrong. Is ED abashed about any of this, or even aware that this kind of brazen overreach is precisely what has driven Hill Republicans to distraction? Nope. Indeed, an ED press official sent around an e-mail advisory on Sunday that proudly linked to the stories on Duncan’s “I’m in charge” chest-thumping.

Living in a nation of laws means that it matters not only what public officials do, but how they do it. Yet, as with “Edujobs,” TARP, RTT, federal funding for the Common Core, gainful employment regulation, and much else, Duncan has shown little interest in such highfaluting concerns. Rather, in the classic Chicago style, the attitude seems to be that if the administration wants to do it, that’s good enough–whatever the statutory or Constitutional complexities, and regardless of whether this is all likely to turn out as intended.

2 thoughts on “No law left ignored?

  1. Well, Fredrick Hess may not like it, but the Common Core State Standards have been adopted by 44 states so far and the timeline to full implementation is only a couple of years. Arne Duncan probably feels like he has plenty of leverage to get whatever he wants from congress right now.

    Besides, don’t we complain about the Obama administration’s laissez-faire, no-touch approach to policy? Here’s a case where they’re using some hard persuasion.

  2. this is looking like there must be some really big contributors looking for a profit on this. its a lever to get the states to agree to charter schools by letting them off the hook for poor test scores. did the tests suddenly become inaccurate measures of a school system’s success?

    I personally don’t think tests measure anything except how well a kid is feeling on the day of the test, and I have never liked what I have seen or experienced inside most public schools or school systems. but at least a public school system offers some kind of opportunity to everybody to learn how to read and write and do some arithmetic. in the new millennium i think that this is going to be perfectly adequate for most of the jobs people are going to have available.

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