The Danger of Waivers for Favors

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Arne Duncan certainly got people's attention last week when he announced that he would begin granting states waivers to certain NCLB requirements due to Congressional inaction on ESEA reauthorization.

While details were short, the implication was clear:  waivers would come with strings attached, and those strings would likely resemble the Race to the Top priorities.

On the teacher front, this likely means waivers in exchange for improved teacher evaluation systems.  Although we couldn't agree more about the serious need for reform of states' evaluation policies, and we are nothing short of amazed at the success of Race to the Top in catalyzing state efforts on this front to date, we hope the Department will tread cautiously in connecting evaluation to NCLB waivers.

As the Race to the Top winners and other states developing rigorous new evaluation systems can attest, this is serious business, with uncharted territory and challenges at every turn.  And that's in states with the will and the resources to take this on. 

We argued in our reauthorization brief that until we're a little farther down this path, requiring low-capacity and/or unwilling and unmotivated states to embrace evaluation reform is risky at best.  And dangling NCLB regulatory relief isn't much different than a mandate, since states are liable to agree to anything to address their most pressing needs.  Weak evaluation systems—lacking in validity and reliability, fundamentally unfair and otherwise poorly conceived—will only detract from the great strides we have made and could actually damage the teacher effectiveness agenda.