In Monday’s issue of Politico, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that the Department of Education would be ready to provide “regulatory relief” from the current iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), otherwise known as No Child Left Behind, if Congress is unable to reauthorize the law before the end of the year.

To respond directly to the Secretary from the principal perspective, NAESP is asking you to complete a short survey and tell us what regulations imposed by NCLB need to be waived. NAESP will, in turn, review and compile your input to provide concrete recommendations to the U.S. Department of Education to consider in this first step of what may be a full rulemaking process.

The Secretary’s announcement about “regulatory relief” follows the May 24, 2011 letter signed by 16 members of the Learning First Alliance (including NAESP) calling for “Secretary Duncan to exercise his authority and address the act’s current flaws that tie up scarce resources with unnecessary regulatory compliance, counterproductive sanctions, and reporting that does little to contribute to student success.” In addition, the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) and the National School Board Association (NSBA) released a joint resolution supported by NAESP urging Secretary Duncan to exercise the Department's authority to provide regulatory relief from AYP sanctions before the beginning of the 2011-12 school year.

In a conference call this week with several prominent education organizations (including NAESP), Secretary Duncan indicated he has had several recent meetings with legislators leading him to believe that reauthorization of ESEA is “gaining traction.” On this point, he firmly believes the education community cannot wait forever and that superintendents, principals and teachers need urgent flexibility from the impractical and ineffective sanctions imposed by NCLB. While the Secretary is hopeful for a complete reauthorization, he positioned the Department of Education as readying to issue some notion of statutory and/or regulatory relief for states and local districts that are working hard to make needed reforms.  In other words, the Secretary’s plans call for flexibility in exchange for a reform package that won’t undermine accountability. Members of the education community have been encouraged to help shape such regulatory flexibility and answer the question, “What should a reform/waiver package look like – what’s helpful and what’s not”

While this specific call for administrative action on the law would be very limited in scope, the Secretary’s comments have resulted in a myriad of reactions and concerns that go well beyond “waivers” or “relief” from the many burdensome regulations that plague school administrators.

It could be said that Secretary Duncan’s willingness to provide regulatory relief is simply political posturing at its best to further the Administration’s reform agenda (Race To The Top), given the unlikely agreement on a comprehensive House and Senate ESEA reauthorization this year. It is no secret that members of Congress generally don’t take kindly to circumventing the renewal of a law with “regulations” designed and implemented by a member of the executive branch such as Secretary Duncan. And finally, while many education organizations actively support regulatory relief that only the Secretary has the power to provide, these same organizations are somewhat nervous that the Department might venture into areas that are more complex to follow for those of you working in the field.

NAESP certainly applauds Secretary Duncan for his leadership and forceful push for reauthorization and his willingness to send a strong leadership message to Congress. Making ESEA work for our nation’s children and our schools is the absolute right thing to do, but it is vitally important that teachers, principals, superintendents, school boards and other stakeholders be consulted to make sure effective policies and practices are implemented that really make sense for those that are impacted the most. This most recent “outreach” by Secretary Duncan is certainly appreciated, and if stakeholder input is valued and ultimately included in any new flexibility– it will certainly be a much needed boost for public education. Time will tell how this story unfolds; but in the meantime please let us know what you think so we can continue to promote the important perspective of principals.

Thank you for your feedback. The NAESP team would like to provide Secretary Duncan with follow up recommendations based on your comments by July 1. We will continue to keep an eye on the process and gather your input on this and other ESEA issues. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the NAESP advocacy team at advocacy@naesp.org.

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