“Waiver Waver… Don’t tell me [it’s a moratorium]!”

To be very clear, this is not a pause or a moratorium — U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, June 19, 2013

Alyson Klein covered the news yesterday that the U.S. Department of Education will give the majority of states the option to request a one-year delay in using value-added measures as part of teacher evaluation, where that use was part of a state’s NCLB waiver request. This will apply to the more than 30 states and the District of Columbia that applied for and received NCLB waivers on the early side. It comes after AFT President Randi Weingarten called for a short-term moratorium on those test-to-evaluation connections during the phase-in of Common Core implementation, and after the Council of Chief State School Officers asked for “flexibility” — not “moratorium,” never that.

And so we have a not-a-pause-or-a-moratorium policy that is an optional delay. But I guess according to the U.S. Department of Education, if Arne Duncan doesn’t use the P (pause) or M (moratorium) words, then states won’t pause or have a moratorium. This is sort of like the belief that if adults don’t use the word sex, then teenagers won’t engage in it. But, hey, if everyone can declare victory and get out, then we’re not quite as deep in the Big Muddy. So here’s to the not-so-subtle wordsmithing of Mr. Duncan.

Along with the announcement of the not-a-pause-or-a-moratorium, the Department of Education also gave states the flexibility to avoid assigning students to take multiple sets of tests while field testing for the Common Core was going on.

Since the announcement today, there have been both approving statements (including from both AFT and NEA, as well as CCSSO) and concerns expressed by those who want firm mandates and timelines (such as Chad Alderman as quoted by Klein) and also those who think the chance for waiver states to get more waivers (waivers to the waivers) ironically gives the federal government even more controlling power (Mike Petrilli, on Twitter). Given the messiness of Common Core politics and implementation, I think Alderman and those with similar views are engaging in a certain amount of wish fulfillment to believe that absent the flexibility announced this week, implementation of Common Core would go more smoothly with fewer timeline glitches than with the … waiver waivers? Yet Petrilli is also wrong: there is no incentive for the USDOE to pile on any additional mandates as conditions, especially given the general Republican hostility towards the NCLB waivers in the first place.

I don’t think Duncan’s wavering and making waiver waivers the new wave is going to solve either the political or implementation issues. But his announcement leaves a safety valve in case a state that committed to an unworkable timeline decides that, um, maybe another year might make the situation less disastrous. I’m in favor of practicality and will happily ignore Duncan’s verbal weaving here.

And now, we return you to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization shadow play in progress on Capitol Hill…

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