But neither the Department of Education nor the president got behind any of these reform measures. Instead, they pushed for a ninth reauthorization of ESEA. Their philosophy that Washington knows what’s best for the classroom underpins the department’s recent waiver offer. Those conditional waivers, granted only to states that agree to adopt the administration’s preferred education reforms, completely circumvent Congress.
While the administration has yet to stipulate its terms, the waivers will likely be contingent on states’ adopting national education standards and tests through the Common Core State Standards Initiative. National standards would be an unprecedented federal overreach, and granting NCLB waivers on the condition that states adopt the standards would relinquish state educational authority for curriculum — the core of education — to an unaccountable Department of Education.
The Obama administration couldn’t get its way with a rush reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. Now it’s turning to “executive authority” to advance its policy priorities in local schools.
The American education system shouldn’t go the way of General Motors. The slow nationalization of American schools has failed for four straight decades. Meanwhile, states like Florida have proved that state-based reforms can significantly narrow achievement gaps while raising educational outcomes for all children. Successful state and local reforms have prompted a seismic shift toward more market-based educational options across the country. This year alone, 12 states and the District of Columbia have enacted or expanded school-choice options for families.
Instead of granting conditional waivers to states, the Obama administration should support proposals, properly advanced through Congress, to fundamentally reshape the federal role in education. Proposals to limit Washington’s overreach in education and restore educational decision-making to states would do far more to improve academic outcomes than any short-sighted waiver proposal ever will.
— Lindsey M. Burke is an education-policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation.