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Creating a National Education System through Federal Waivers



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In just three short years, President Obama and Secretary Duncan have quietly been laying the ground work to put this country on the path toward a national education system. While many are celebrating the premature death of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, a greater threat looms on the horizon which has received little attention. Make no mistake about it; through waivers and federal grants, this administration is changing our K–12 educational system as dramatically as our health-care system but without the statutory authority granted by our elected officials.

With the approval of two more state waivers of the NCLB Act, over half the states (26) have exchanged one set of federal mandates for another, moving us closer to a nationalized educational system. In order to receive an NCLB waiver, states must adopt new college-and career-ready standards and develop new assessments that are aligned to them. In addition, the president’s Race to the Top Program rewards states with federal taxpayer dollars for complying. Currently, 44 states have adopted the standards and 46 states are developing assessments aligned with the standards. 

The U.S. Department of Education must approve all of these new requirements in order for a state to receive a waiver. If the Department of Education does not agree with a state’s plan to meet these new mandates, then a waiver is not granted. For example, Virginia did not receive a waiver based on its initial request in February. Only after federal officials demanded significant changes to Virginia’s waiver proposal was it granted. In fact, almost every state which has received a waiver has bowed to federal pressure to establish this administration’s vision of education reform rather than their own. With so many states agreeing to these new federal mandates, a national curriculum and complete federal control of K–12 education is not far behind.

#more#These new federal mandates in the guise of flexibility make absolutely no sense. Do we really believe that 95 percent of our schools will produce college- and career-ready students when according to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) two-thirds of students are not proficient in reading and math? How can schools be expected to meet new college- and career-ready standards when two-thirds of our students cannot read and write at grade level? And worse, parents, taxpayers, and policy makers will have no way to determine whether students are meeting these new college-and career-ready standards. Nor will students be able to transfer to a better public or charter school or receive extra tutoring unless they attend the worst 5 percent of our schools.

Congress is not without blame for allowing these waivers to occur. The authorization of the NCLB expired in 2006 and Congress has not made collaboration a priority to address the issues raised by its implementation. While the Senate and the House of Representatives have passed reauthorization bills out of their respective committees, both bills have stalled there. Another way for Congress to curtail the Department of Education from issuing such broad waivers is through the appropriations process. To date, there has been no willingness to fight that battle. 

In the absence of Congressional action and with so much focus on Obamacare and the economy, the administration has filled the vacuum and put us squarely on a path toward a national educational system. Coupled with this administration’s takeover of the financing of the student-loan program, a European national education model will soon be practiced here in the United States. 

Americans should be outraged and demand a stop to these unconstitutional policies before it is too late to reverse course. 

 — Sally Lovejoy is an expert on education issues at the American Action Forum.



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