Last night, Politico ran a story announcing that Arne Duncan will on Monday issue a call "for repealing and replacing the nation’s landmark federal education law, No Child Left Behind." They characterize this "joining Republicans in Congress." I would characterize it as trying to jump on the bus before somebody throws him under it.
"Repeal NCLB" just means "rewrite and reauthorize ESEA" and that job has been due since 2007. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act has been around since 1965, regularly reauthorized/rewritten to reflect the current administration policies. NCLB is just the version we're currently stuck with.
NCLB is the foundation for the administration's current reformster program. The universal failure of states to meet the NCLB requirement that all students be above average by 2014-- that failure is the engine that drives RttT and waivers. Remove NCLB, and you remove the chief motivation for states to accept Common Core (a motivation so powerful, you will recall, that states signed up for CCSS before it was even finished).
But rewrite it as what?
The Obama administration has always known what their vision of a rewritten ESEA would be, and we are living it. The administration's ed program appeared first as Race to the Top in 2009, then next appeared as its proposed "Blueprint for Reform" aka proposed ESEA/NCLB rewrite in 2010; both highlighted Common Core (or something just like it), data collection, teacher evaluation based on tests, more charters. When the administration was unsuccessful in rewriting ESEA their way, they created the waiver program as an end run around the law.
So there is nothing shocking about a Duncan call to rewrite ESEA/NCLB. The administration has essentially already done it by the use of waivers.
Why is he doing it now, when he's had his way for the past several years? The answer is obvious-- if the GOP really rewrites ESEA, all of Duncan and Obama's reformy work will be trashed. Duncan's announcement is not a clarion call to change a single comma of the administration's policy-- it's an announcement that he intends to preserve it against the GOP onslaught that's about to begin. For all intents and purposes, Duncan has had the ESEA rewrite he's wanted for five years, and the GOP is threatening to take it away from him. Duncan is jumping on the bus before he is thrown under it, but there will now be a hell of a battle over who's going to drive and where the bus is going to go.