February 29th, 2012
06:10 AM ET

My View: 'Waiving' state education control goodbye

Courtesy David Hills By Lindsey Burke, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note: Lindsey M. Burke is senior policy analyst in Domestic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

For more than a year now, Congress has been holding hearings about No Child Left Behind, garnering input about the federal role in education and its impact on local schools, and deliberating about how to re-write the 600-page law. In other words, Congress has been engaging in a thoughtful process about how to reform federal education policy.

Earlier this month, President Obama effectively told Congress that time was up, announcing that his administration would begin issuing NCLB waivers to states. In his announcement at the Department of Education (an appropriate location, considering the authority just vested in the agency), President Obama announced that Colorado, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee will receive the first round of waivers.

Nearly everyone agrees that No Child Left Behind is broken. But President Obama has decided to circumvent Congress and issue waivers to states that agree to his administration’s preferred education policies – a move that will not provide genuine relief to states and schools. The waivers are conditions-based, and states will only have access to the “relief” they offer if they agree to reforms such as adopting common standards and tests – a huge step toward nationalizing curriculum. So while states might feel some temporary relief from NCLB as a result of the waivers, they’ll be binding their hands in the long run by ceding more control to Washington.

President Obama discussed the standards issue in his State of the Union address. He made it sound so easy and inconsequential, like something a timeshare company might say: “For less than 1% of what our nation spends on education ” But instead of ending with … “you too can own a little piece of Boca Raton,” the president went on to say that he had “convinced nearly every state in the country to raise their standards for teachers and learning.”

“Convinced” is an interesting choice of words. The Obama administration is convincing states to adopt his preferred policies by offering waivers for a law that everyone agrees is flawed. He convinced many states to adopt national standards and tests by dangling $4.35 billion in Race to the Top money in front of them during a time when state budgets were tight.

In fact, the Pioneer Institute in Massachusetts has a new report that suggests the Department of Education is exceeding its statutory boundaries by issuing the strings-attached waivers, particularly as they pertain to standards and assessments.

“The Department has designed a system of discretionary grants and conditional waivers that effectively herds states into accepting specific standards and assessments favored by the Department,” says Robert Eitel, one of the reports authors. The administration, the authors argue, “has simply paid others to do that which it is forbidden to do.

But even the money the administration has used to bribe states to adopt the standards won’t be enough to cover the long-term costs. Pioneer also estimates national standards implementation will cost states some $16 billion – far exceeding any grants awarded through Race to the Top. And during a time of budget shortfalls in states across the country, putting taxpayers on the hook for a standards overhaul of questionable value is the last thing they need.

If the Obama administration were truly interested in providing relief to states from the onerous provisions of No Child Left Behind, it would support congressionally-proposed options that allow states to completely opt out of NCLB, without strings from the White House. But in the meantime, state leaders should reject these conditions-based waivers, and should resist this latest federal overreach.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Lindsey Burke.


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Filed under: NCLB • Policy • Voices
soundoff (59 Responses)
  1. NHWoman

    The Department of Education and President Obama's relief are both nightmares for people on the ground trying to do the job of educating kids. They tie everyone's hands behind their backs and then blame them when they don't achieve arbitrary results. They compare us to foreign countries where you can really only compare our math scores, blame us for ours being too low, and forget that in these other countries they spend little or no money on special education (so that group isn't tested), they lecture all day (which we think is bad for kids), they have single high stakes tests for kids (which we think are bad), they expect hours of homework from the kids (which we think is bad), they practice rote memory skills (which we think are bad), and then they wonder why we don't measure up?

    March 1, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  2. TexDoc

    Why is there even a federal department of education. Isn't it redundant, every state as a DOE. Every school district has a board. Every school has a prinicipal. Every department has a chair. How many levels of beaucracrats are necessary to teach? End the federal DOE. Distribute ALL the funds to the states and phase it out over time. Each state should fund education to the level they see fit.

    March 1, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • big daddy

      Same old story boo hoo teachers crying again, they act worse than their students. I would fire all of them. State test,too many students in their classes,not paid enough. Everything about them. Shut up and do what you're suppose to do, teach the kids.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
      • SMF

        With the current state of education in this country it is difficult to get good people to enter that field. Once upon a time in my more idealistic days I entered that field very highly trained and found that despite my preparation I was effectively prevented from actually doing that job. Now I work in insurance where I'm at least allowed to do my job well.

        March 2, 2012 at 8:02 am |
      • LDV

        People like you are the problem with our schools today. You don't see (or understand) everything that is wrong in our educational system. You simply want to blame it on the teachers. Of course, there are some teachers who struggle with the current population in our schools. Our children today are rude, lazy, inattentive, destructive, and utterly disrespectful. Many parents send their kids to school just for the babysitting aspect. These parents struggle with teaching their children the basic concepts of self-discipline, ethics and hard work . But of course, teachers should just deal with the violence, laziness, obscenities that parents today foster in their children. TAKE YOUR OWN ADVICE AND SHUT UP!

        March 5, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  3. Greg

    Heritage Foundation. Right wing extremist. You know what happens when schools go private? They are funded by right wing millionaires to teach conservative ideals or even worse...like the Tampa newspaper exposed just a few days ago, they teach Scientology without the parents knowing. The Koch brothers have been pouring in millions to privatize education to mold children into themselves. Right wing bigoted extremist.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • WIlliam

      Just how left are you. All private schools are extremist, racial bigot factories; if I choose not to agree with your unsupported citation, am I a bigot or are YOU>STFU

      March 1, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  4. Casey

    Congress established the United States Department of Education (ED) on May 4, 1980, in the Department of Education Organization Act (Public Law 96-88, 93 Stat. 668, October 17, 1979).

    Nice try. Education starts at home.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • TexDoc

      That is a mistake that should be overturned. We don't need a federal DOE. It's over 70 Billion (NASA budget is only 12 Billion) Which inspires more education. Space travel by men and women, or Federal beauracrats counting vegatables and pencils and test scores?

      March 1, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  5. professionalstudent

    The United States does not lag behind other countries in education. We exceed them. The countries that consistently report such high test scores (1) teach nothing but test material (Google "cram schools"). They do not teach creative/higher order thinking and problem solving, which is why the United States holds more patents for inventions than any other country on the planet. (2) These countries do not educate all of their children, nor do they require all of their children to take the tests. The United States has extremely strict requirements on this matter, insisting that every single child in this country receive an education. Furthermore, all American public school students (ALL – from kids with minor learning disabilities to students with Down Syndrome) are required to take the tests (accommodations are almost impossible to get approved, which is why my autistic student will be taking the test this spring). If other countries did this, their test scores would plummet.

    March 1, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  6. JLa

    I'm a first year music teacher. My job is at stake if my school doesn't make AYP again this year. We missed it by 2% last year in the reading category. Those 2% were the students that have been speaking English for less than a year. They are still required to take the same tests as every other student even though they hardly know the language.
    While I believe that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is very flawed, many of my papers in college were written about the topic, I also believe there were sincere intentions when it was created. But, what I believe even more is that the government needs to step away from the states.
    By the end of the 2014-2015 school year, NCLB expects 100% of students in every school across the country to be on or above grade level. This includes every ESOL child, every child with an IEP, every child with a 504 plan. If you aren't familiar with those terms, I do not think you should be writing laws for schools.
    I believe that government should step away from writing laws for schools unless they have a degree in education. There's a reason that I already have my BS in education and will be obtaining a MS in it as well. At least in my state, there are very high standards. I cannot speak for other states but I know what I have to do.
    I just wish that the government would step away and focus on the things that they understand the best. While I'm not sure what that is, I'm sure there is something because we can all be successful.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:53 am |
    • SMF

      Perhaps if the government would employ people with expertise in education they would do a better job of writing laws pertaining to education. I don't believe anything short of law enforcement will help rid schools of the rampant scandal and corruption they are experiencing in these times.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  7. Independant 1

    The Federal Government should not be in the education system, other then to discuss how we need to better ourselves. The resaon that the US is so far behind other countries is that students in todays education system are just pushed along, a national cirriculum come on who is going to approve it some guy with a PhD, there are thousands of people with PhDs and they can't agree. It needs to be pushed down to the local level, where local officals can impact more of a change to their schools and are more responsive to the parents.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:50 am |
  8. LDV

    Every country whose children are scoring higher than American children in math, science and language arts have a national education system. Schools should not be run on a local or even state level. Education should be required to be equal across the entire nation. This means in the area of curriculum, programs offered, teacher compensation, etc. This cannot be achieved with each school district squabbling every year with their town finance boards as to how much the community is willing to fund the schools for. That is what is happening all across this nation. Community A wants to pay this much $$$, Community B wants to pay this much $$, and poor Community C can only pay this much $. How is this equal? How can ALL of our children be given equal opportunity with this ridiculous system. Education should be controlled at the national level to ensure equality. That means it also should be funded at the national level to guarantee equal opportunities for all children. We cringe when we see how much higher european and asian children are scoring than our own kids. So let's consider what is so different between our systems - a National Education System!

    March 1, 2012 at 4:37 am |
    • Independant 1

      Also majority of those that outscore the US are motivated by more then just money, their existence depends on it. The problem with National education, which sounds good until one gets into the weeds. Take Germany, England, and France three countries I have lived in. They have a series of tests, that one has to pass to move to the next level. So in the US everybody is for National Education until they are told that their son or daughter didn't score high enough on the exam and should start looking at low level service industries. This is how these countries are ran, their are pluses and minuses for each system, we just need to talk about the minuses as well. The advantage America gives is freedom of mobility I can bust by butt and attend College and go on to be a lawyer, in the European countries everybody often refers to without living in them there is none of it. I can ask your level of education and immediatly know where you are in the system.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:03 am |
    • SMF

      A national education system might be the only way at this time to stop local administrators from directing all resources toward high school football.

      March 1, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  9. tffl

    I think the right wing is very confused. (The author of this article is with the Heritage Foundation, a very right wing think tank.) They seemed to be very in favor of standardization and testing ("accountability" they call it) – in fact, they basically developed and pushed the idea at the national level (under George W following the lead of Jeb in Florida). However, now that Obama the Democrat is generally agreeing with the concept (not that I personally think it's a good idea), they suddenly think it is a horrible idea and we should go back to complete state control of education. Of course, if Florida is anything to judge by, they believe in local control only at the state level (assuming they control the state) – they are still pushing standardization and control over local school boards, especially if those local school boards aren't in right wing (OK, enough euphemisms – Republican) hands. It appears what they believe is that education should be under Republican control, at whatever governmental level they can achieve that aim...

    March 1, 2012 at 3:44 am |
  10. anthony

    It is painfully obvious that the education system in this country has major flaws. Throwing more money at it will not fix the problems we have in our schools. I agree that a national set of standards and assessment testing should be adopted. With every state having completely differenet curriculum's, testing, and standards, it is all but impossible to assess from state to state which schools are performing the best. It makes it extremely difficult to evaluate how students are performing if the standards are so different. There are plenty of good teachers out there, I know a couple of dozen of them myself. The problem seems to lie in the amount of control the state governments have over how and what teachers teach. I know when I was in school there weren't near the problems with the eduation system that there is now. Teachers need to be able to discipline kids again and to critique the kids so they can learn from their mistakes and actually learn. As it stands now, if a teacher so much as raises his or her voice at a student, that teacher could get sued or even lose their job. Something needs to change for the better very soon or this country will be in even deeper trouble than it is already in.

    March 1, 2012 at 1:10 am |
    • SMF

      Many educators today would argue that the most severe problem in education today is student behavior, that schools are not equipped to cope with such prolific, such severe behavior trouble. Perhaps if parents were to resume parenting their children, then teachers could resume teaching thier children.

      March 1, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  11. partysstink

    Another way for the gov to brain wash our kids into beliving them and giving them more control. Great idea by this libtard.

    February 29, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  12. pop CHEESE

    People destroy their dreams and hide in their caves. They fear getting attacked by others.
    It is called "Lost Generation". For example Steve Jobs died of Cancer. What's missing about Steve Jobs?

    Drug discovery.

    February 29, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • Commojoe

      Cheesehead, what is that supposed to mean? It makes no sense. Are you perhaps a victim of Bozobama's education system?

      March 1, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  13. OneCritic

    Lindsey: The standards are a floor, a low floor that all students should be far far above. These are "standards," not "excellents." The NCLB was effectively a ceiling as it required the class to move NO FASTER than the slowest student. USA is not even close to being #1 in schools in the world, except for shootings. You must have relatively coordinated standards (which get a bit better every year once they start working) to regain any ground.

    February 29, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
  14. wemomsworkdotcom

    I am so tired of hearing the debate about the state of education in the country. We spend more per child on education than other 1st world countries and still cannot make the grade. It's not the money guys, every administration comes up with another catchy phrase, "reach to the top", NCLB, but forget the real issue EDUCATION OUR KIDS. They want to leave their legacy behind, but all that we see if one failed policy after another. Let's start looking at some of the countries that have a functional education system, and learn some lessons from them.

    February 29, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
    • professionalstudent

      "...but forget the real reason is EDUCATION OUR KIDS." Well, we failed at least once.

      March 1, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • SMF

      Another place to look would be our own past. Specifically, target a date for when our education system began to fail, then identify what changes took place immediately prior to that first failure. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" seems to have been violated sometime in my lifetime by the education system.

      March 1, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  15. Steve Lyons

    The federal government should put caps on administration budgets to limit the salaries of the administrators and raise the standards and pay for the teachers. Also there should be a total federal ban on public school "sports" because they cost so much and return NOTHING of benefit to society. We didn't put a man on the moon and bring then home through football. We did it through math and science.

    February 29, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • SMF

      I'm not so sure that a total ban on sports is the answer. However, it would likely help greatly if failed sports coaches were no longer hired to be school administrators. It is they who direct all resources to sports to the exclusion of all other needs, driving test scores down and giving rise to so very many forms of scandal.

      March 1, 2012 at 10:01 am |
  16. Steve Lyons

    Mr. Obama please issue me a lifetime "waiver" so I no longer have to pay federal income taxes please. I mean since you don't like that law, I don't like the 16th Amendment. Grant us waivers too.

    February 29, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
  17. gstlab3







    February 29, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • ButterSquash

      You forgot you medication again didn't you?

      February 29, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  18. barb

    I attended NY schools throughout my years in school. NY's education is mandated by the state & since we moved around a lot while I was a kid, I was able to move town-to-town and know exactly where in the curriculum I was at any time in a school year. I also had one of the more superior educational experiences of anyone that I met when I went to college.

    February 29, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  19. Yakobi

    OR–now this is a radical thought–simply abandon the unfunded, pie-in-the-sky utopian dream that NCLB was.

    February 29, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • SMF

      NCLB seems to have been well intentioned but in practice has been a miserable failure, even making matters worse in some places. In my state it has given rise to prolific scandal.

      March 1, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  20. Angryblackman

    There needs to be one system of education. why is this the only country in the world where white people feel that its ok that certain schools teach good things and other schools teach crap? ALL schools need to teach the same things. Schools are the gateway to a prosperous populous that can fill the technological jobs of the future. the only way this happens is for there to be ONE curriculum. All schools need to have certain levels inside them for the different needs of their customers (I.E. children) college bound, tech school bound, general education (for the home bodies that might not get a job or will most likely get mcjobs) and special education for the learning disabled. Four levels of teaching in every school. Other than that all curriculum needs to be uniform. Stop teaching red necks that the south was wrongly attacked, stop hiding what was done in history to blacks, native americans, jews and other immigrants, start teaching the best ways to learn math, science etc...uniformity will teach the americans of the future so that there will be an american in the future.

    February 29, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • smitvict

      And get blacks to stay in school, stay off drugs and not have babies when they are in high (or middle) school. Loss of personal accountability is part of why are schools don't deliver.

      February 29, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
      • mb

        Absolutely true. Lack of personal responsibility on the side of the student and their parent is the number one reason schools "don't work". Instead of throwing money at schools and teachers for which the taxpayer is responsible, expect...no DEMAND...that parents and students act responsibly instead of constantly passing and placing blame.

        February 29, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • Bmh

      You don't sound like an angry black man to me. You sound like a black man who is speaking reasonable common sense ideas. Just like another black man That comes to mind. Unfortunately, they won't listen to him and they won't listen to you because they are blinded by prejudice.

      February 29, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
      • Slappy

        We listen to him. He's just wrong. But, I appreciate you telling me what it in my heart.

        March 1, 2012 at 3:21 am |
      • Slappy

        ** what is in my heart ** typo

        March 1, 2012 at 3:22 am |
    • Slappy

      Sounds good in theory. But with everything the gov't gets involved in, it usually messes it up. Furthermore, the farther away the decisionmaker is from the ground level, and the larger the beaurocracy, the more likely it is to get messed up. Why would parents want to give the authority to educate their children to someone in D.C. rather than someone right in their city and state? The big-gov't statists love the control and they really believe that they know better in D.C. than you do in your hometown. They think they are doing the right thing for you...that's the problem.

      March 1, 2012 at 3:29 am |
  21. Mike

    I am from Iowa. We have a great education system. The federal government mandates are imposing changes that cost additional money and time. These mandates are lowering our education bar, not raising them. The additional costs are causing class sizes to go up, and reducing time spent teaching creative thinking. The department of education employs ~4000 federal workers. There are probably an equal number hired by school districts to service the additional paperwork. To think what we could have done if we hired that many teachers instead.

    February 29, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
  22. Jsmith

    The feds have no role in education. Their interference there is a violation of the 10th Amendment.

    February 29, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • mb

      Totally agree. How did this nation get by before the Dept of Ed existed? Oh yeah...that's right...just fine...

      February 29, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
      • Bmh

        Uh huh... The Deptartment of Education was originally created in 1867... Before then how did we get along? Slavery? No or very little middle class? Ignorance abounding? Please. I guess if your goal in life is to live on a compound, teach young girls that their job is to be your "celestial wives", and convince everyone around you that the government is out to get them, then sure... Things were better in 1867.

        February 29, 2012 at 9:46 pm |