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No Child Left Behind faceoff is high drama – but of little consequence

A battle over the Common Core State Standards has spawned the latest skirmish between the GOP-controlled Indiana State Board of Education and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, a Democrat. What’s the issue with the federal No Child Left Behind waiver and what does it really mean?

Step back from the heated exchange and you’ll see it doesn’t mean much. Here’s the view from 20,000 feet:

is the waiver?

A: The U.S. Department of Education agreed to exempt Indiana and several other states from some of the most onerous provisions of the No Child Left Behind law in exchange for adopting some controversial measures. The state agreed to adopt teacher evaluations linked to student test scores, for example, to avoid the requirement of 100 percent of its students being proficient in math and English by the end of this year.

Q: When was the waiver granted?

A: In February 2012, at the request of then-Superintendent Tony Bennett, an enthusiastic supporter of another of the waiver provisions, “transition to and implement College- and Career-ready Standards,” better known as Common Core.

Q: What’s the problem now?

A: Federal education officials monitor for compliance. The latest report found Indiana failing in multiple areas, beginning with Common Core implementation and development of a standardized test aligned to the standards.

Q: Wasn’t it the General Assembly’s decision to drop the controversial curriculum guidelines?

A: Yes, but the federal government’s agreement with the former state superintendent is binding on the Indiana Department of Education, regardless of who is in charge there.

Q: What else was in the report and what does the federal government want?

A: The feds charge that Indiana hasn’t done enough to help troubled schools or to implement teacher evaluations. They will require the state to submit plans for how it will address shortfalls in its waiver requirements.

Q: What if the state loses the waiver?

A: “It does put federal grants, federal programs, at risk, but I don’t think we know what that means yet,” said Krista Stockman, spokeswoman for Fort Wayne Community Schools. “If the (federal Title I money) came directly to us instead of the state, I don’t know how that would affect the flexibility. The federal government is pretty specific with how you can use that money.”

Observers elsewhere say chances are slim that the federal government will crack down. Andy Smarick at the right-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute points out that the U.S. Department of Education has created a paradox with its waiver program. It granted states flexibility from federal requirements the current administration disdains, then threatens to bring down the Washington hammer if the states don’t get on board with provisions it favors.

From the left-leaning New America Foundation, Anne Hyslop points to other states that strayed from the federal government’s favored testing route, mapped out by a consortium called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, and seemingly face no consequences.

Q: Did Superintendent Ritz fail to inform State Board of Ed members about the waiver threat?

A: Board members should have known the General Assembly’s Common Core disruption would affect the waiver. Gov. Mike Pence, who supported the standards rebellion, seems to want to have it both ways when his appointees criticize Ritz for not advising them that the Common Core detour would create problems.

Q: Should parents and taxpayers be worried about this?

A: Only to the extent that it represents more evidence of problems at the intersection of politics and privatization. The unrelenting push by corporate interests into public education might create a sideshow, but it doesn’t serve students well.