The Obama administration is pursuing a second round of its education reform agenda. The first round was "Race to the Top," which created a competition among states for extra federal grants that would be won by states with the most impressive reforms. This time around, instead of dollars -- there is no new money to hand out -- the Department of Education is using regulatory relief. The 2001 No Child Left Behind law imposed fairly rigid requirements and standards. Everybody agrees it needs updating, but Congress is too dysfunctional to update it, and has been for several years running. So the Department is offering to waive the standards for states that comply with a second round of reform.
The anti-reform left is, naturally, up in arms. Former conservative education guru turned hard-left reform opponent Diane Ravitch tweets, "What is NOT federal role in education: telling schools what to do, how to reform, punishing them for not agreeing with fed demands." Likewise, Monty Neil, guest posting for the Washington Post's stridently anti-reform blog "The Answer Sheet" urges states to refuse to cooperate:
If they accept the deal, states will lock in ever more counter-productive educational practices based on the misuse of test scores, including linking teacher evaluation to student scores. Those policies could be hard to dislodge should Congress decide not to endorse Duncan’s “Blueprint” when it eventually does reauthorize the federal law. States that refuse to sign on to Duncan’s reform program, however, will be denied waivers, Duncan said, and will then continue to be subject to the continue the NCLB charade of seeking “100% proficiency” of students in reading and math by 2014. Neither choice will help children or schools.
Mass resistance is likely the only course remaining. States should stop imposing additional sanctions on schools, as some states have said they will do. They should simultaneously refuse Duncan’s deal. This would be a good time to call Obama and Duncan's bluff.
This is interesting because much of the debate within liberal circles centers, explicitly or implicitly, on the question of what is the true liberal position. Opponents of reform are advocating a policy of local control, telling Washington to stay out, and urging "mass resistance" at the state level to federal activism. (At least he didn't write "massive resistance.") That doesn't sound like liberalism to me. It sounds like devolving policy to the level of government at which local interest groups (in this case, teachers unions) will exert the most sway, and foreclosing the possibility of using evidence-based methods to drive policy toward more effective practices.