President Barack Obama is slated to give a speech tomorrow lauding the benefits of granting waivers to states for the burdensome provisions of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Obama, unhappy with the pace at which Congress is undertaking NCLB reauthorization, has decided to grant the conditions-based waivers to states to fulfill his own timeline and push his own policy preferences. States have felt the federal heat from provisions in NCLB that require all children to be proficient in reading and math by 2014. And as that deadline approaches, many states could find the temporary relief promised through the waivers a welcome reprieve.
But any temporary relief states might receive will ultimately be swamped in the14 long term by new onerous burdens from increased authority in the Department of Education, as opposed to Congress. The waivers come with yet-to-be specified conditions, which could include requirements to adopt “college and career ready” standards—a phrase the Administration and others use to refer to common national standards and tests.
The waivers are yet another example of Obama circumventing Congress to push the Administration’s policy preferences. And people are beginning to notice. Senator Marco Rubio (R–FL) recently implored Education Secretary Arne Duncan to heed the Constitution in a letter he penned concerning the Administration’s push for national standards and tests.
This is more sleight of hand from the Administration. Offering states waivers will tie their hands and subject them to more federal control. Instead of waivers, the Obama Administration should look to congressional proposals that restore state authority for the long term, such as A–PLUS.
The A–PLUS approach does something that NCLB does not: gives states control of their own education systems. It allows states to opt out of the many NCLB programs and use the funds for programs that they deem important. States who take the waivers may think they are getting a good deal, but it will cost them dearly by the loss of autonomy in the decisions they make for their own schools.
There are certainly better options than a rapid NCLB reauthorization in Congress or an effort to replace it with this Administration’s preferred policy through executive fiat. States need options that put students first and focus on dismantling the increasingly centralized control of education that has been on a trajectory of failure for more than 40 years.