According to the Obama Administration, the majority of the nation’s schools could be failing.

In a statement to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce just over a week ago, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that under the current No Child Left Behind law, 82 percent of the nation’s schools may not be sufficiently educating students. But this is debatable.

It is true that far too many schools in the United States are not providing students with a good, or even remedial, education. Children in the U.S. continue to fall behind their peers internationally, and too few students are able to reach proficient levels in crucial areas like reading and math. This spells tragedy for the future of our nation.

However, all the Department of Education’s murky 82 percent estimate demonstrates is the shortcomings of federal education policy when it comes to evaluating actual academic standing or improving academic achievement. Decades of growing intervention in local schools has led to increasing red tape levied on schools and school districts in order to comply with and receive federal funding. The federal government’s accountability tools are very blunt, yet they undermine and distract those closer to students who are equipped to judge students’ academic needs more precisely.

The quest for education funding and compliance with federal mandates has shifted states’ attention upward to Washington and away from the parents and taxpayers to whom they should be most accountable.

As noted by Heritage’s Jennifer Marshall in her testimony to Members of Congress Tuesday:

The proliferation of federal programs and the ever-increasing prescription of federally driven systemic reform distract school-level personnel and local and state leaders from serving their primary customers: students, parents, and taxpayers.

For example, she reported that a Virginia school district calculated that the additional cost associated with training staff on the new provisions of NCLB “is equivalent to the cost of hiring 72 additional teachers … ten … instructional assistants … [and] four additional assistant principals” who could have had direct “interface … with the community’s children.”

Additionally, for years Washington has taken state tax dollars, “running that money through the Washington bureaucracy and sending it back to states,” rather than allowing it to flow directly to schools. As a result, a significant proportion of those dollars never makes it to students.

Thus, it’s no wonder that hundreds of programs and billions of federal dollars later, the nation’s students have made virtually no academic gains.

And while the Obama Administration claims that its proposed education reforms will be “fair and flexible and focused on the schools,” the plans simply promote the same federal regulation that the federal government has pushed for more than five decades.

What schools need is real flexibility to implement reforms that empower parents and students. States like Florida—which has implemented policies to ensure that parents receive clear information on school performance and to allow children to attend a school of their choice—are showing the way to promote academic excellence.

When it comes to education, giving more control to parents and families, not to federal bureaucrats, is the way to increase academic success for the nation’s children. Washington should take its red tape and step away from the classroom.