Waivers Won't Fix a Broken School System

students testWhat is the point of passing laws with requirements and mandates if the government hands out waivers like candy? Since the passage of Obamacare in 2009, it seems like all of the President’s friends get waivers from the newly enacted health care mandates. 

Now Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, at the request of President Obama, says he will announce a waiver system to give schools an exemption from meeting federal education requirements established in No Child Left Behind. The goal of the nine-year-old law is to get all kids proficient in math and reading by 2014.


Unfortunately, like so many laws these days, it assumes that demanding something makes it so. Everyone should have health insurance; so government demands everyone have health insurance. All children should be able to read and write and do basic arithmetic; No Child Left Behind demands that they learn how. Uncle Sam brushes his hands together and says, “Phew! That was easier than I thought it was going to be. Let’s all go to lunch!”

If only potty training worked like that. “I have instituted a new rule: All hineys shall make contact with the toilet seat during the elimination process.” How cool would that be? “Oh what’s that Sweetie? It’s too hard? Ok, I’ll just give you a wee-wee waiver. You can try again next year.”

Seriously, with all of these waivers, why do we even have the laws in the first place? If laws don’t make sense, why are they there? Why do some people have to follow them, but not others?

The success of No Child Left Behind was to be measured using standardized tests. So teachers started teaching to the test, rather than to the students and their educational needs. Some teachers even went as far as to change the answers on their students’ scantrons to make their district look good and to avoid non-compliance penalties.

The system doesn’t work. It’s been in place for nearly a decade, and the only thing Republicans and Democrats seem to be able to agree on is that it sucks. We need reform, not waivers. We need to change the system, not mandate that everyone somehow start improving or else

Arbitrary rules for performance won’t fix our broken educational system. Changing the way the system works will. Putting parents and teachers, not zip codes and test scores, in charge of our children’s education will both improve academics and keep costs down.

It’s time for some win, not for more waivers.


Image via peruisay/Flickr

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