Different! Or Not?

Everyone is chattering about Secretary Spellings’ big No Child Left Behind announcement today in Minnesota (Update: ED’s fact sheet here). Essentially, she’s setting up a pilot program for states to put forward ideas on school improvement strategies that do more to differentiate the consequences among schools that are not meeting performance targets. It’s a good idea and a promising area for some innovation.

But first the bad. This Administration continues to call for bipartisan progress on No Child but simultaneously continue to do things that seem calculated to undermine that. Their budget requests have hardly been helpful. Today’s event, featuring a Republican senator in a tight reelection contest at an event with loads of Republicans just seems calculated to piss off Democrats. The locale is especially curious because Minnesota has hardly been an enthusiastic implementer of the No Child policy. Today’s announcement is intended to give some room to innovate to states that are ahead of the game.

Now the good. When I testified before The Aspen Commission on NCLB I suggested an idea like this (and others have as well, it’s hardly a unique idea). You can envision a whole host of interesting ideas: Changing the law’s timelines from a steady slope to plateaus followed by big steps, going deeper to really focus on intervening in a subset of schools while easing up on those that are not such bad actors, integrating more measures of school performance to create a triage approach to school improvement, using other indicators to broaden the pool of schools that can accept transfer students under the law’s public school choice provisions, plus many others.

The Administration plans to use a peer-review approach similar to the one they used on the growth model pilot. That one turned out to be relatively serious and work reasonably well. Let’s hope they are similarly tight up front. Not every state should even be eligible for something like this and 10 is a lot to green light unless there are a lot of very ambitious proposals.

Done right this pilot should create the same sort of disappointment that the growth model pilot did: It should leave people disappointed that it didn’t end up being a big walk-back on school accountability. And done right it might generate some new ideas on how to refine No Child’s accountability rules.

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