Fury Over School Regulations: It’s the Department of Education, Stupid!

The new school regulations are so old school. Can we not just deregulate like it’s 1999?

Yesterday’s proposed rules on school accountability are yet another reminder that it’s time for federal bureaucrats at the Department of Education to get their hands out of our education system. They have done enough damage already with their long record of failed reform efforts.

However, when it comes to regulating our children, the Department of Education will never back down. Nothing is over until they decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Heck no!

Okay, maybe that was John Belushi in Animal House, not the Department of Education. At the rate Common Core is diminishing the humanities, it’s hard to tell. And, we all know what happened when Dean Wormer tried to regulate Delta fraternity: Toga! Toga!

Alright, back to the proposed education rule – we don’t want to give the Department of Education the chance to hand over the dunce cap – let’s take a look at the federal government’s role in our education system.

Since the Common Core curriculum is unlikely to cover this topic, it’s time for a brief history lesson in education policy. Don’t worry, there will be no standardized test on this. Not yet, at least.

Education Department 101: No Child Left Behind with Common Core and Every Student Succeeds with School Choice

The Department of Education, acting as a federal board of education, has a long history of enacting top-down measures that grab power from the hands of teachers and schools. These standards and regulations, always a far cry from effective education reform, merit the department a failing report card.

In 2001, Congress passed highly lauded, bipartisan effort at education reform known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Despite the initial positivity surrounding NCLB, over time it proved to be a bureaucratic one-size-fits all uniform testing program that vastly expanded the reach of the Department of Education.

After years of amendments and alterations by administrative rules, this program was left behind and replaced in 2015 by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The ESSA is a purported shift away from federal accountability provisions.

The success of this reform is yet to be determined, although recent events indicate that the expansive regulatory authority of the Department may limit its positive effects. The rule could be circumvented through legislation that takes power away from federal education regulators.

One instance of the federalization of education can be found in the Common Core fiasco. The Common Core curriculum provided an opportunity for exercise of federal authority.

Like NCLB, much of the Common Core debate centers around standardized testing. The debate intensified during this year’s Education Department-mandated “Testing Season”, a period that was transformed by the opt-out movement.

The opt-out movement led to some very heavy-handed Department of Education policies by penalizing schools for noncompliance and silencing teachers speaking out against Common Core.

School choice is the other recent Department of Education issue. School choice vouchers would allow student to escape poor policy decisions of educrats by allowing students the option to attend schools other than the school that was assigned.

Last week, parental choice in education was placed on the public radar as the Department of Education issued an absurd ruling that could require schools to allow transgender bathroom and shower facilities. In a Forbes op-ed, FreedomWorks’ Stephen Moore argued that this decision makes a powerful case for “school choice now more than ever.”

The Department of Education’s new proposal, with its implication of federal overreach, makes a powerful case for taking back control over our schools now more than ever.

The Proposed Regulation: More Federal Oversight and More Testing Equals More Education

Here’s a Common Core math problem:

1.) Federal control of education + more standardized tests =

A. more education
B. the most education
C. the best education
D. monkeys

The best guess is probably D, but we won’t know for sure until the Education Department’s accountability report tells us if we passed.

If you couldn’t answer the question, you (or your school) may be in trouble. The new regulation would impose federally mandated accountability measures that give the federal government oversight over student and school achievement.

While states and local school boards are given some flexibility in their methods of rating school performance, they are help accountable by the Education Department for administering achievement exams and for intervening in under-performing schools.

The need for school accountability rules, according to the Department of Education, stems from academic underperformance.

What is the Department’s solution to poor academic achievement? More testing, of course!

In a power grab that ignores the complaints of teachers and parents, the Department of Education is responding to the Common Core opt-out movement by making testing anything but optional. Under this regulation, school districts would be held accountable for ensuring that 95 percent of students take performance-indicating standardized tests.

The Education Department has recommended punitive measures for schools and students for opting not to participate in testing. Additionally, the new rule states that federal funds can be withheld from states that fail to test 95 percent of students.

Public outcry against the testing craze has criticized federally mandated standardized tests as a being poorly constructed, inaccurate indicators of performance used to unfairly evaluate teachers and students.

Rather than listen to teachers and students, the Department of Education has decided in favor of regulatory overreach.

The Initial Backlash: Sharp Criticism, Promised Hearings, and Congressional Review

Speaking out against the new regulations, Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) stated:

"I am deeply concerned the department is trying to take us back to the days when Washington dictated national education policy… Congress worked on a bipartisan basis to move the country away from the prescriptive federal mandates and requirements of No Child Left Behind. We replaced that failed law with a fundamentally different approach that empowers state and local leaders to determine what’s best for their schools and students."

Rep. Kline, Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, also indicated he will hold a hearing on the rule. Echoing Kline’s opposition, Senate Education Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), promised to block the regulation through the Congressional Review Act:

"I will review this proposed regulation to make sure that it reflects the decision of Congress last year to reverse the trend toward a national school board and restore responsibility to states, school districts, and teachers to design their own accountability systems… If the final regulation does not implement the law the way Congress wrote it, I will introduce a resolution under the Congressional Review Act to overturn it."

The Congressional Review Act allows Congress to repeal regulations that are overreaching, expensive, or unduly burdensome.

The Department of Education’s proposed rule is open for public comment through August 1, 2016. Submit a comment to tell the Department of Education to leave education to the educators.

For more information on the comment period and the rulemaking process, check out the FreedomWorks guide to understanding regulations.