Romney would do well to note that Race to the Top — Obama’s much-lauded $4.35 billion grant competition, which rewarded states that promised to pursue 19 federally prescribed educational “priorities” — essentially required a union sign-off; that every one of the dozen winning states failed to live up to its airy, expensive promises; that less than 5 percent of the $100 billion–plus in education stimulus funds went to the administration’s education-reform initiatives, while the rest was simply handed out to school districts with no strings attached; and that the administration has berated states and districts for daring to cut education spending — and even adopted Race to the Top criteria that penalized states that sought to tighten their belts.
Romney should also point out that Obama’s education agenda reflects the administration’s enthusiasm for expanding the size and influence of the federal government, often in defiance of the Constitution. For example, the administration has eagerly offered states “conditional waivers” from some of NCLB’s provisions. Some NCLB provisions are nearly impossible for many states to meet, so this places enormous pressure on states to agree to the administration’s conditions. In turn, while these conditions — prescriptions for school improvement and teacher evaluation — are not necessarily bad in themselves, they have never been passed by Congress, and probably could not be, given concerns on both sides of the aisle. Meanwhile, with these kinds of measures, it matters far less whether they are done than how they are done — decades of experience teach that federal pressure is far more likely to yield red tape than effective implementation.