Federal Education mandates under No Child Left behind are quickly becoming the hottest state nullification target.

Idaho and South Dakota recently joined Montana in openly defying benchmarks set for this year.

NCLB set a goal of 100 percent student proficiency in math and reading by 2014. The feds gave the states leeway to create their own timetable, but as that deadline looms, state lawmakers are beginning to realize they won’t make it. So instead of pushing on toward unrealistic federal goals, they are abandoning the mandates and formulating their own programs.

Even at the risk of losing federal dollars.

Montana receives more than $44 million in federal funding under NCLB, according to the Associated Press. The feds recently warned the state it will forfeit some of that money if it doesn’t get in line with requirements by Aug. 15.

But that carrot and stick routine no longer possesses the power to keep states in line.

Montana was the first state to openly declare it would not comply with NCLB. On May 11, Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau revealed that she wrote U.S. Education Secretary Anne Duncan announcing her decision not to raise the target test scores that Montana schools must meet this year to avoid being labeled as failing under the federal law.

“I’m not asking permission,” she said in an interview with the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

Juneau railed against the standardized federal approach.

“(W)e need some alleviation of the strict across-the-board, one-size-fits-all, absolute bar of 100 percent proficiency on state assessments,” Juneau wrote. “You understand that the unrealistic 100 percent goal undermines the work and morale of students and educators and the public’s confidence in schools.”

Idaho and South Dakota followed suit last month.

Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna sent a similar letter to Duncan last month, indicating the state will implement a new statewide accountability system to measure its students’ progress. The federal benchmarks simply aren’t working for the Gem State.

“The law has become a stumbling block to continued improvement in raising student achievement,” Luna told the Idaho Statesman.

Juneau and Luna hit the nail on the head. Federal one-size-fits-all schemes fail miserably, as do most standardized solutions to problems. That’s why the framers, in their wisdom, left “all objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement and prosperity of the State,” out  of the hands of the federal government.

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in education to understand that local bodies know their communities, demographics and students best and will do a much better job crafting education strategies.

Come to think of it, perhaps all of the Ph.D.s in education have something to do with the problem.

But I digress.

When I was a kid, I swam on the swim team. We had a diverse pool of talent (pun intended), ranging from beginners to national competitors.  I was a middle of the lane kind of kid. I was nowhere near making the U.S. Olympic team, but I held my own in my age-group, swimming in local and state meets.

During practice, the coach grouped us into squads of about 10 kids based on our speed and endurance. Each group was made up of swimmers sharing roughly similar ability, and each had workouts tailored to its relative skill level. As we improved, we had the opportunity move up a group.

Now imagine for a moment that the coach was lazy and didn’t feel like coming up with six or more different workouts every day. So, he puts everybody together and creates a one-size-fits-all practice routine.  It takes about a nanosecond to recognize the utter absurdity of running a beginner through the same workout as a swimmer prepping for national competition €“ or vice versa. She would likely never rise to the level of her potential, and the beginners would probably all vomit and quit about two minutes into the sprints.

Now, the scenario might have worked out pretty well for an average kids like me. But is that really the standard the coach wants for his team?


Yet the federal government imposed an educational system just like on the entire nation. A system that caters to average. A system that encourages cheating. A system that screws our children.

No wonder states don’t want to play.

It’s a stupid game.

And they shouldn’t.

More states need to join Montana, South Dakota and Idaho. And they need to approach it with the same attitude as Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Juneau.

“I’m not asking permission.”

Yes, even at the risk of losing federal dollars. As Juneau points out, the federal butter doesn’t even flavor the bread.

“It still makes no sense to me that we have a federal education law, and I’m spending 80 percent of my time on this law, while the federal government funds only about 12 percent of our school budgets.”

The federal government has no business in education. It has no constitutional authority to meddle in education.  But its gnarly hand will remain stuck in the classroom until the states pick up a ruler and smack it out.

For more on state defiance of No Child Left Behind, click HERE.

Mike Maharrey

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