No Child Left Behind Waivers: The Ends Do Not Justify the Means

On Friday Motoko Rich wrote in The New York Times about how the “No Child” Law has been whittled down by the White House.

In just five months, the Obama administration has freed schools in more than half the nation from central provisions of the No Child Left Behind education law, raising the question of whether the decade-old federal program has been essentially nullified.

Perfect, our President has gotten rid of a law that was lawfully passed by Congress simply because he didn’t like it.  Not only that there were conditions for the waivers.

In exchange for the education waivers, schools and districts must promise to set new targets aimed at preparing students for colleges and careers. They must also tether evaluations of teachers and schools in part to student achievement on standardized tests. The use of tests to judge teacher effectiveness is a departure from No Child Left Behind, which used test scores to rate schools and districts.

Congress has tried and failed repeatedly to reauthorize the education law over the past five years because Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on an appropriate role for the federal government in education. And so, in the heat of an election year, the Obama administration has maneuvered around Congress, using the waivers to advance its own education agenda.

The waivers appear to follow an increasingly deliberate pattern by the administration to circumvent lawmakers, as it did last month when it granted hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants a reprieve from deportation. The administration has also unveiled policies to prevent drug shortages, raise fuel economy standards and cut refinancing fees for federally insured mortgages.

Critics question whether the waivers have done much to genuinely shift the focus of federal education reform, given their continued reliance on standardized tests. The waivers “should probably make the meh list,” said Joshua Starr, superintendent of the Montgomery County schools in Maryland, which was granted a waiver in May.

Mr. Starr said he believed that education reform should focus on incentives to help teachers collaborate and help students learn skills that could not simply be measured by tests.

States have been clamoring for the waivers… they come with strings attached.  Teachers often are glad to be rid of NCLB, but could care less about how it was done.  Can I reiterate something here that is very basic to the conversation about Obama’s NCLB waivers.

Congress failed to act – there isn’t agreement so Obama took it upon himself to offer waivers.  Regardless of how you feel about No Child Left Behind, and I hate it, the waivers simply are unconstitutional.  States are swapping one type of federal interference for another.  President Obama has no authority to supercede law.  He’s the President, not the King.  The ends do not justify the means.