NCLB Waivers Are Conditional

Helen Whalen Cohen

9/24/2011 9:39:00 AM - Helen Whalen Cohen

The Obama administration made waves yesterday with the announcement that states can opt-out of some No Child Left Behind provisions. The states that receive waivers will not have to show that all children are proficient in reading and math by 2014, a main component of NCLB. 

 

Obama's announcement could fundamentally affect the education of tens of millions of children. It will allow states to scrap the requirement that all children must show they are proficient in reading and math by 2014 -- a cornerstone of the law -- if states meet conditions designed to better prepare and test students.

 

And the president took a shot at Congress, saying his executive action was needed only because lawmakers have not stepped in to improve the law for years.

 

"Congress hasn't been able to do it. So I will," Obama said. "Our kids only get one shot at a decent education."

 

If you thought that Obama was employing a more hands-off approach to education, though, you would be mistaken. Instead, the waivers come with strings attached and states can only opt out of NCLB if they agree to implement his proposals instead. It slips his regulations under the door, exchanging George Bush's rules for his, basically amounting to another executive fiat. Tina Korbe comments on this over at Hot Air:

States will receive a waiver if and only if they agree to certain conditions set by the Education Secretary. CNN calls those conditions “credible commitments to close lingering achievement gaps.” Conservatives call those conditions “strings attached” and “legislating through the executive branch.”

 

Chief among the administration’s stipulations for a waiver: The adoption of college-and-career-ready standards (a.k.a. national standards). National standards and tests might sound sensible in theory, but, in reality, they would strengthen federal power over education and weaken schools’ direct accountability to parents and taxpayers. Moreover, they would most likely lead to the standardization of mediocrity rather than the standardization of excellence.

 

But national standards are a favored policy proposal within the Obama Department of Education — and, again, with today’s move to introduce a qualified opt-out from NCLB, the president has found a way to circumvent Congress to push through this policy preference and other preferred “reforms.”