Is Obama Playing Politics With Iowa’s NCLB Waiver Request Denial?



I wanted to bring to your attention an interesting article yesterday about the rather surprising news that Iowa was not granted its No Child Left Behind waiver request.  Alyson Klein for Education Week wrote:

Turning down Iowa’s waiver could be a bold political move on the department’s part. First off, it’s a swing state that President Barack Obama is actively courting in his re-election bid. Plus, Iowa’s congressional delegation includes the most powerful member of Congress when it comes to education issues: U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat, who oversees both the committee that sets K-12 policy, and the panel that decides on education spending.

It wouldn’t shock me that Obama is playing politics, after all it seems to be the only thing they know how to do.  This is likely to backfire however.  Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) in that same EdWeek article said, “is another example of why [the Elementary and Secondary Education Act] needs to be reauthorized, so all states can receive the relief they need from the current requirements of No Child Left Behind.”

Actually I’d like to see ESEA scraped and the Feds get out of education entirely.  But I know at this point it is wishful thinking.

Jason Glass, the Director of the Iowa Department of Education, doubled down on Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s statement yesterday:

This was a missed opportunity for Iowa’s schools to find relief from a law that holds them to unrealistic measures and then blames them for failure.  We made it clear to the Legislature in committee meetings and in writing that the Iowa Department of Education needed statutory authority to move forward on implementing a waiver-compliant evaluation system. The Legislature did not follow through.

State Senator Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames), chair of the Iowa Senate Education Committee, countered what Governor Branstad and Director Glass said in his response written today on the Iowa Senate Democrats website:

The governor’s press release criticizes SF 2284 for creating a task force of education professionals to develop a draft of these guidelines.  That, however, is exactly what the governor’s original bill requested on page 8 of Senate Study Bill 3009.  Branstad set a deadline for the task force to report by October 15.  SF 2284 sets the same deadline for the same task force.

The DoE letter lists six specific points it desires for the evaluation system.  All six are either already established in SF 2284 (e.g., annual evaluations) or are included in the bill’s charge to the task force (e.g., using measures of student growth and differentiating at least three performance levels).  Again the language in the final bill directing the task force is virtually identical to what the governor’s original bill draft tells his task force to do.

The one thing that the governor requested but that SF 2284 did not do was to give Education Director Glass the unilateral power to adopt the educator evaluation system without legislative approval.  Both houses of the Legislature and both parties agreed that that was too much power to vest in an unelected bureaucrat.

Emphasis mine… I don’t agree with State Senator Quirmbach much, but in that statement I do.  What the Obama administration asked for and the Branstad administration wanted was asking too much.  Branstad’s complaint will likely backfire come next session when he presses for more of his version of education reform.  In conversations I’ve had with members of Branstad’s own party in the Legislature there is a growing dissatisfaction with his approach to education reform.   Expect some bipartisan pushback next legislative session.

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