Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia have requested waivers from the Federal government for No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. The waivers free the states from changes required of schools and states who fail to meet the goals outlined in NCLB. Nearly all states have failed to meet the goals outlined in the legislation.
Don’t be fooled. This is not an innocent exercise in helping struggling states and schools. The Obama administration is using the waivers as a strategic tool to get the states to federalize the curriculum and give Washington greater control over education policy. Because President Obama stands little chance of passing legislation to do so, the administration is seeking to impose policy preferences through bureaucratic control by the Department of Education.
In a recent column on the subject in CNN, Lindsay Burke, Senior Policy Analyst at the Heritage Foundation, describes the details of the proposed waivers on policy when she writes:
Nearly everyone agrees that No Child Left Behind is broken. But President Obama has decided to circumvent Congress and issue waivers to states that agree to his administration’s preferred education policies – a move that will not provide genuine relief to states and schools. The waivers are conditions-based, and states will only have access to the “relief” they offer if they agree to reforms such as adopting common standards and tests – a huge step toward nationalizing curriculum. So while states might feel some temporary relief from NCLB as a result of the waivers, they’ll be binding their hands in the long run by ceding more control to Washington. . . .
Do states need relief from NCLB? The Bush administration’s signature education program had lofty goals and controversial mechanisms for measuring progress. The nearly decade-old law was supposed to end the achievement gap and ensure that all students were proficient in math and reading by 2014. Disappointingly, the achievement gap still persists, and our students are far from proficient in either subject. States are now facing the punishment of failing to reach the goals articulated in NCLB.
Instead of offering states the opportunity to opt out of the 2014 NCLB legislation, the Obama administration said it will grant waivers to those states that did what they wanted in terms of school reform. Translation: do it our way and jump through more hoops. In order to get waivers states have to promise to implement college and career ready standards for students , set new student achievement targets and create evaluation systems for principals and teachers that include standardized test scores as at least one of the measures, find ways to reward top- performing schools and how best to intervene with struggling schools.
Why should this concern Americans? The practice of granting waivers raises new legal and constitutional questions. The Obama administration is willing to grant waivers if states agree to principles outlined in Blueprint for Reform, the administration’s proposal for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NCLB’s parent legislation. Many conservatives contend the waivers will allow the administration in essence to craft a whole new law even if it is only “principles” that are agreed upon.
Although government-by-waiver has been around for a while the evolution of far-ranging legislation like No Child Left Behind is a crapshoot. Execution and implementation matter as much as what is actually in the legislation. It looks like the Obama administration is thinking that the landscape and the education politics have changed sufficiently to make a legislative defeat unlikely.
Those who believe questions regarding public education ought to be decided locally should be alarmed at these developments. Legal prohibitions against federal control of the curriculum (e.g. common core standards) have failed to stop growing federal power over public education.
A total lack of academic progress in spite of billions in spending and forty years of federal involvement in public education has also failed to curb federal reach into local schools. That states would still willingly trade away control of public education in exchange for federal funds and agreement to a set of new principles is a decision void of logic and evidence.