"No Child" waiver denial is bigger than blame

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Gov. Terry Branstad was pretty quick with the pointing finger once news broke that Iowa’s request for a waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements had been denied by the U.S. Department of Education.

“Responsibility for the denial of this request lies squarely at the feet of the Iowa Legislature,” he said in a statement released in tandem with news of the denial this week.

Legislators fiddled even while his administration tried to warn them that our schools are in dire need of improvement, Branstad says. Maybe he even believes it.

But if you ask me, he’d be wise to stop wagging that shame finger and put it away.

This isn’t the first time Branstad’s tried to call legislators out for not adopting word for word the $25 million “love it or leave it” education reform package he unveiled last fall.

But Iowa’s not the only state that’s struggled to come up with a plan that will get us out of some of No Child’s more problematic requirements. Not by a long shot.

The well-intentioned 2001 law requires 100 percent of students to meet grade-level benchmarks in different subjects by 2014. In reality, while the law’s prompted some significant improvements, each year more and more schools are, in fact, being left behind.

Thirty-seven states have asked for waivers from some problematic NCLB rules, proposing to implement their own accountability programs. So far, 19 have gotten the federal OK.

The rest, like Iowa (where more than a third of the schools failed to meet annual yearly progress goals last year) keep being sent back to the drawing board. Iowa’s not the only state looking for a solution to the accountability question.

And looking, we are: Teacher evaluation and accountability is just one issue being studied this summer for possible legislative action in the fall. That’s the right way to go, even if it means delaying the waiver.

One big knock on No Child rules is that they present the appearance of accountability without enough attention to substance. There’s little point in swapping out those requirements for something just as poorly thought through.

The denial is a disappointment, but it’s not the end of the story. Important work on education reform continues in the state. Federal education officials say they want to keep working with Iowa on our request.

So it’s back to the drawing board, but that’s a good thing. Let’s keep working on the problem until some real answers emerge.

Comments: (319) 339-3154; jennifer.hemmingsen@sourcemedia.net

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