Restoring Educational Choice Means Ditching The Department Of Education’s Burdensome Regulations

Published January 6, 2017

For the Feds in the U.S. Education Department, ‘flexibility’ means there’s nothing left to lose.

Flexibility is a quality Olympic gymnasts possess. When federal bureaucrats claim they are being flexible in administering massive programs of aid to elementary and secondary education, spectators would be wise to hold their chants of “USA! USA! USA!”

In the November 28 release of its final regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – the successor to the late, unlamented No Child Left Behind – the U.S. Education Department (USED) repeatedly touts the “flexibility” that these new rules give states in setting education standards and testing students. Student assessment being the key to the whole system, USED boasts of “clarifying new flexibilities” for states and localities as they assess their kids’ cognitive and affective domains.

In fairness, when Congress passed ESSA and President Barack Obama signed it into law in December 2015, high-ranking politicos of both parties spouted the same line: states would have flexibility galore. For the past 11 months, Obama’s final-year education secretary, former New York State education commissioner and ardent Common Core fan John B. King Jr., has led his bureaucratic battalions in drafting and fine-tuning the requirements.

Granted, the law itself is rigid in continuing the NCLB mandate for testing all students every year in reading and math in grades 3–8 and once in high school. However, any slack cut by USED bureaucrats carries so many conditions as to constitute “flexibility” of the most rigid sort. To paraphrase a famous Kris Kristofferson-authored song (“Me and Bobby McGee”), flexibility is just another word for nothing left to lose.

Consider the supposed freedom given to up to seven states – just that many, no more – to experiment with “new and innovative tests.” The regulations set up a dizzying array of hoops through which states must jump to receive federal approval for their attempted innovation.

Just two of these are (1) demonstrating in advance how the new system “will meet statutory requirements for the alignment, quality, and fairness of the innovative assessment,” and (2) laying out a detailed plan by which the state will “sustain, or make progress, toward implementation in demographically diverse districts and schools throughout the demonstration period.”

Here is the real doozy: “States are required to ensure their innovative assessments produce results comparable to the statewide assessments and must determine comparability between the statewide assessment and the innovative assessment annually.”

In what genuine scientific experiment are the outcomes known with certainty beforehand? No worries, mate, because if the would-be innovating states are stumped, they can choose among four “methodologies” approved by the feds, or they can even propose their own – if they can prove to Washington, D.C. that their assessments are “equally rigorous” in somehow ensuring compatibility.

Elsewhere in the freshly minted regulations will be found not-so-subtle reminders that Common Core (CC) continues to endure, despite its unpopularity. States must “establish college- and career-ready standards and maintain high expectations when assessing all students against those standards.” That is the CC boilerplate. Furthermore, the federally required tests “must measure higher-order thinking skills, such as reasoning, analysis, complex problem-solving, critical thinking, effective communications, and understanding of challenging content.” That is straight out of progressives’ CC playbook.

Parents who assert their right to refuse to submit their children to intrusive Common Core-style assessments will find no flex-love in Secretary King’s ESSA rules. The feds recognize no parental right to opt out, and they expect states to come up with plans to penalize schools that fall below a test participation rate of 95 percent. King’s hard-nosed enforcement of Common Core as the Empire State’s education chief played no small role in provoking protests resulting in a statewide opt-out rate exceeding 20 percent in the 2014–15 school year.

If President-elect Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos, Trump’s designated secretary of education, are serious about terminating the federalized Common Core and restoring education power to the people, a starting point would be scuttling these ridiculous regulations. The ultimate goal ought to be ending the U.S. Department of Education’s corrosive impact on education by shutting it down altogether.

[Originally Published at Independent Journal Review]