U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s been awfully busy over the past several years (see here and here). Rather than work with Congress to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), renamed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) under George W. Bush, he’s been issuing states waivers from NCLB mandates—most notably the mandate that by this year all students would be proficient in reading and math.
To be sure, the ESEA/NCLB has not achieved this, much less its many other stated goals, and it serves as a powerful example of the failure of federal interference in education. As the Wall Street Journal’s Jason L. Riley writes:
The latest state reprieve came Friday and is directed at New Mexico, which received a one-year extension of an earlier waiver. States that receive waivers are expected to, among other things, implement new teacher evaluation systems that incorporate student test scores. New Mexico hasn’t done that, and it’s not alone in ducking any consequences. “Forty-one states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico currently have . . . [NCLB] flexibility, 34 of which expired this summer,” reads the Education Department press release. Of those, 33 submitted an extension request and 31 have been approved.
The administration has also used its waiver authority to reward states that align with its Common Core curriculum preferences, which some Republicans also consider overreach, if not outright bullying. “Our principal concern is that the Executive branch does not possess the authority to force states into compliance with administration-backed reforms instituted through the issuance of waivers,” Sen. Marco Rubio wrote in a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan shortly after the administration began going waiver-crazy. “We acknowledge that NCLB allows the Secretary to grant waivers for existing provisions under the law, but nowhere does the law authorize waivers in exchange for the adoption of administration-preferred policies.”
Riley rightly urges that Congress needs to put the brakes on, as he puts it, “government-by-waiver.” Yet Congress needs to do much more.
A top priority in the coming year will be reversing the federal takeover of healthcare. Members of Congress should also make ending the much more longstanding and pervasive federal takeover of education a top priority as well.
After all, the word education appears nowhere in our Constitution. On the contrary, education through the Tenth Amendment is to be left strictly to the people and the states. Common Core has been likened to the Obamacare of education. But this is just the latest expansion of the federal government into education. Left unchecked, it won’t be the last, and yet another generation of students will be worse off if Congress fails to act.