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Why A Romney Presidency Could Mean A Departure From Obama's NCLB Waivers

Mitt Romney hasn’t said outright he’d dismiss the Obama administration’s No Child Left Behind waivers if elected president, but an advisor hinted that would be the case Monday night. Phil Handy “filled in many of the blanks” for those curious about Romney’s positions during an Education Week-sponsored debate in New York, writes Michele McNeil:

The waivers are “not about flexibility. They’re very prescriptive. We think they have led to a very unfortunate result: … many of these states are setting different accountability standards for different constituencies of children,” said Handy, a former chairman of the Florida State Board of Education. “I think it’s wrong.” What he’s referring to — different school performance standards for different groups of kids — is becoming a big policy issue in many states, and a messaging problem for the Obama administration.

Handy said like all executive orders, the waivers would be reviewed under a Romney administration. He said a Romney administration would push for reauthorizing NCLB, and if that doesn’t happen, then it would try to return to NCLB as written.

Jon Schnur, an Obama education advisor squaring off against Handy in the debate, replied that would mean a return to some of the “worst parts” of NCLB.

One of the reasons Indiana sought a waiver in the first place was to do away with an unpopular provision that kept schools who weren’t making adequate yearly progress from scoring higher than a C. The state has since replaced AYP caps with its own rewired A through F grading system.

But Handy’s concern that the waivers create difficult accountability standards for different students echoes the same sentiment critics voiced when Indiana submitted its waiver application. Civil rights groups worried that by creating a “super subgroup” of at-risk students — Indiana’s includes the bottom 25 percent — schools might not address the individual needs of English language learners or other groups.

Other states are grappling with their own concerns. A coalition of New Jersey leaders studying that state’s waiver sent a letter this week to the U.S. Department of Education questioning whether accountability measures would come down disproportionately hard on schools that serve a high number of poor or minority students.

Interestingly, it’s Democrat Glenda Ritz campaigning against Indiana’s NCLB waiver in her bid to become the next state superintendent. She says the new A through F system will have a detrimental effect on schools and communities. But the incumbent, Republican Tony Bennett, defends the system and the state’s waiver.

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