Indiana’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver which was renewed this past June is up for renewal again at the end of the school year. The zeal with which Indiana Department of Education officials sought the current waiver leaves little doubt that a strong effort will once again be made to retain it. However, an honest discussion is needed to consider if Hoosier students have been better off under the waiver, and whether or not the policies the waiver requires have strengthened Indiana schools.
The waiver hasn’t come cheaply, and whatever small reprieve may have been enjoyed by school administrators who are no longer held accountable under AYP, it came at a huge cost to students and tax payers with the adoption of Common Core standards. The waiver was a trade-off; more state control over how we spend a small portion of federal funding, in exchange for more federal control over education policy. Yes, Indiana was given greater discretion over how we spend the set aside portion of Title 1 funds which amounts to half of 1% of the total education budget, but we had to relinquish control over our standards, state assessments, teacher evaluations, and school accountability measures to get it.
Some state officials claim that the waiver “frees” the state from federal intrusion, and the mandatory changes it required regarding standards, assessments, etc. were made independently by the state without federal input. That argument is hard to reconcile against the 300 pages of requirements and conditions contained in the waiver application that Indiana submitted to the U.S. Department of Education, along with an additional 200 attached files, as proof that Indiana was meeting the federal parameters required by the waiver.
Unlike the renewal last year, this time it’s good for three years, which places Indiana education policy under the parameters of the Obama Administration’s waiver until 2018 , well beyond his term. Those supporting the renewal of the waiver operate under the assumption that the waiver and NCLB are going to continue. But, what happens if the newly aligned Congress passes legislation to repeal No Child Left Behind, and the reforms we have made no longer apply? Indiana has a decision to make: Should we continue to build our education system around the parameters of a waiver which new legislation could void, possibly as early as this spring?
This is why state sovereignty is so important, especially as it pertains to the control over standards, assessments, accountability, and teacher evaluations; they are the underpinnings which drive our entire education system. Students, teachers, and parents must be guaranteed consistency, not upheaval every time Congress or bureaucrats in the US Department of Education lift their pens.