Obama’s Lawless Education Policy

Obama’s Lawless Education Policy
April 30, 2014

Joy Pullmann

Joy Pullmann is a research fellow on education policy for The Heartland Institute and managing... (read full bio)

School Choice Weekly #35

The Obama administration has once more demonstrated its contempt for representative government and the rule of law, this time through Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s decision to pull Washington state’s No Child Left Behind waiver.

NCLB is the most expansive federal education law. Congress was due to rewrite it in 2007. Despite a Democratic majority through 2010, Congressional leaders ignored the overdue bill, probably because the Obama administration was then using stimulus money to rewrite education policy without Congress.

This year – 2014 – is the year NCLB requires all students to register proficient on state tests. As that pie-in-the-sky deadline inched closer, Duncan cooked up a waiver scheme to trade favors with state bureaucrats. If they did what he wanted, he would ignore their breach of the law. Now 42 states have a special education policy dispensation from the Obama administration.

Washington state, however, didn’t jump high enough for Duncan. Although state lawmakers rushed to pass laws that pleased him (rather than their constituents, despite Duncan’s lack of constitutional or statutory authority over states), they didn’t do everything he wanted. So Duncan decided to make an example of them.

“Duncan’s behavior has been, quite literally, lawless,” writes Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute. “The first time that Washington refused to do as commanded, as Duncan’s letter notes, he felt free to nonetheless extend its waiver. This time he didn’t. Of course, it’s a safe bet that every state is currently violating some part of its waiver. And those states which have dropped PARCC or SBAC are massively in violation of their waivers (after all, for good or ill, NCLB actually does give the feds some say-so on state tests – so these states are lying about stuff actually related to the law). Yet Duncan, presumably trying to avoid doing further gross damage to the Common Core cause, seems inclined to turn a blind eye.”

This is just one plotline in a larger story where cronies profit from their ability to use government to coerce funds from everyone else. The rule of law lets everyone play by the same rules and thereby have the same opportunity to score. When rule of law breaks down, society becomes a Hunger Games-like feudal system, where brute force and brown-nosing are more important than talent, work ethic, and service.

Lawlessness like this is also the result of allowing the national government to assume too much power. It clearly has grown accustomed to forcing its will on others, with or without any legal justification. What’s the right way to treat a bully? Tell him no, and enforce it.

MORE INFORMATION: Rick Hess Straight Up


School Choice Roundup

Common Core Watch

Education Today

  • TESTING TECH: Just like last year, a number of states are experiencing problems with computer testing, many of which are invalidating thousands of test results. That, in turn, creates problems for all the policies driven by tests, such as teacher evaluations and school grades.
  • TEACHER PREP: The Obama administration has decided to add regulations to teacher training. Because, you know, the thing ineffective programs need is more federal regulations.

Joy Pullmann

Joy Pullmann is a research fellow on education policy for The Heartland Institute and managing... (read full bio)