Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Yet when it comes to education, that’s one lesson the federal government hasn’t learned. Maybe it’s time to put some history teachers on the case. They would have to look no further than President Barack Obama in writing their lesson plan.

Yesterday the President delivered a commencement speech at a high school in Memphis, Tenn., in recognition for its achievement in his Race to the Top Commencement Challenge, a competition for schools to demonstrate their commitment to preparing students for college. While applauding the students, the President also took time to pat his Administration on the back for its education policy — which amounts to another truckload of spending and further concentration of power over education in Washington:

Ever since I became President, my Administration has been working hard to make sure that we build on the progress that’s taking place at schools like this. We’ve got to encourage the kind of change that’s led not by Washington, D.C., but by teachers and principals and parents; by entire communities; by ordinary people standing up and demanding a better future for their children.

In reality, the President’s strategy isn’t about empowering teachers and communities. It’s about increasing the federal government’s authority over schools. The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke writes:

Despite his assertion that education change must be led “by teachers and principals and parents” – not by Washington, D.C. – the Obama Administration’s track record on education policy begs the contrary. His Administration has continued the education spending spree, taking it to new heights thanks to a $100 billion bonus provided to the Department of Education through the so-called “stimulus” in 2009.

Moreover, the President is eager to consolidate more power in Washington by requiring states to comply with national standards as a part of No Child Left Behind reauthorization, driven by the belief that education reform can happen top-down from Washington. President Obama has called for the law’s reauthorization before the start of the next school year.

There’s another lesson that the Obama Administration could stand to learn. It’s about waste in the federal government — specifically, the Department of Education. According to a Government Accountability Office report, billions of taxpayer dollars are being wasted on redundant programs. In fact, the report found 82 redundant teacher quality programs. And rather than encouraging teachers, as the President claims he’s doing, the Department of Education is regulating them. According to Representative Duncan Hunter (R–CA):

Currently, the paperwork burden imposed by the Department of Education is larger than that of the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Justice. From 2002 to 2009, the Department of Education’s paperwork burden increased by an estimated 65 percent—an astounding number that continues to grow.

Fortunately, there’s a move afoot in Congress to yank the long hand of government out of our nation’s schools. Hunter has introduced legislation that would eliminate 43 out of some 80 programs that fall under No Child Left Behind, and Representative John Kline (R-MN), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, is determined to reduce the federal government’s role in education. That’s good news given that No Child Left Behind is up for reauthorization. Burke explains what’s at stake:

As the fight of No Child Left Behind reauthorization heats up, federal policymakers have two options: they can continue to repeat the failed policies of the past by trying to dictate education reform from Washington, or they can take steps to reduce the federal footprint and tack a new course. If President Obama is serious about locally-driven education reform, he should follow the lead of conservatives in Congress, who are working to ensure that taxpayer dollars are wisely used and education is serving its most important constituencies-students, parents, and taxpayers-not bureaucrats in Washington.

It’s always great news when students achieve success, but unfortunately, nationwide, this year’s graduating class is not remarkably different in achievement than the classes that preceded them years ago. The only thing changing about our public schools is the amount of money the federal government is using to control them. It’s time for results measured in achievement, not tax dollars. And yes, Mr. President, those results are proven to be driven best at the local level.

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