- The Washington Times - Monday, August 8, 2011

Education Secretary Arne Duncan had harsh words for Congress on Monday, calling it “dysfunctional” and announcing plans to bypass lawmakers and institute sweeping education reform through a waiver system for states.

Despite repeated calls from President Obama to pass a comprehensive overhaul to the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act before the next school year, Congress has been unable to do.

The inaction is especially apparent in the Senate, where Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat and chairman of the committee which oversees education policy, continues to push back his own timetable for introducing a reform bill.

“We can’t sit here in Washington and turn a deaf ear to what’s going on around the country,” Mr. Duncan said during a press conference at the White House. “Right now Congress is pretty dysfunctional. They’re not getting stuff done.”

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce has made some progress, passing the first three bills in a five-step process out of committee. They await votes on the House floor.

Earlier this year, Mr. Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said he’d introduce a bill by the spring. Two weeks ago during an Appropriations subcommittee hearing, he said he hopes to introduce the bill “this year.”

The lack of progress has clearly frustrated the administration and education specialists, who criticize NCLB for its high-stakes testing and what they call its unrealistic expectations.

The Education Department’s waiver system — the details of which will be announced sometime next month — will free states from many NCLB mandates, including the “failing” school designation, if those states demonstrate real reform and a high bar for student achievement.

Mr. Duncan said he hopes all 50 states will apply.