published Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Education waivers skirt rule of law

We can readily see why Tennessee and Georgia are seeking waivers from some of the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind education law.

The law has two big factors working against it:

* First, there is little evidence after decades of heavy federal spending and "guidance" on public education that all that money is boosting achievement among our young people.

* Second, we do not see authorization in the U.S. Constitution for Washington to set standards for public education. In fact, the Constitution is clear about leaving such matters to the states and the people. (And there are refreshing calls among current Republican presidential candidates to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education altogether.)

That brings us to Tennessee and Georgia, which are among the states asking for waivers from the Obama administration that would let them fashion their own educational accountability standards.

Among other things, Tennessee wants more flexibility in how it spends federal dollars that go to schools with high proportions of students from low-income families. And in Georgia, officials want to include science, social studies and foreign language achievement -- not only math and reading -- in determining which schools are making progress.

We do not say those are bad ideas. In fact, they may make sense.

The problem is that the Obama administration is skirting the rule of law to allow waivers from the No Child Left Behind law. The law sets standards that schools must meet to show they are making adequate yearly progress, but the president has grown impatient waiting for Congress to alter the rules to his liking.

So as The Associated Press reported, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the president announced "they would let states get around unpopular parts of the federal law ... ."

Duncan said: "This is not a tweak. This is a basic change" to how the law measures schools' progress.

We can debate whether the federal standards are reasonable -- and they are clearly not constitutional. But if the standards are misguided, the solution is for Congress to repeal the law. It is not for the administration to substitute its own educational benchmarks for states to meet in lieu of the benchmarks laid down by Congress.

The administration's job is to enforce -- not create -- the law.

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