President Obama just delivered a speech and announced that states will now be eligible to receive waivers to get out from under the onerous provisions of No Child Left Behind. During the speech, he stipulated conditions that will be attached to the waivers.

In one of the biggest education policy developments in a decade, President Obama has sorely mistaken bi-partisan distaste for No Child Left Behind as a mandate for him to unilaterally re-write the law from the White House.

Both sides of the aisle agree that No Child Left Behind is broken. But the Obama administration believes that federal intervention can be fixed, and Washington-driven policy can improve America’s ailing education system.

By contrast, conservatives in Congress believe that states and local leaders should have their educational decision-making authority restored, and have introduced alternatives to No Child Left Behind, including proposals such as A-PLUS, which would allow states to completely opt-out of the failed law.

Why the flurry of activity from the administration all of the sudden? No Child Left Behind (which is, by the way, the eighth reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965) significantly expanded Washington’s role in education by triggering a ticking clock on states’ educational performance.

By 2014, all children must be proficient in reading and math while showing Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) toward that goal. Obama and Duncan are offering NCLB waivers to states, exempting them from AYP and 2014, on the condition that they agree to new policies that are the preference of the administration.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that Duncan said his “absolute preference is for Congress to fix it [NCLB] for the entire country. But there’s a level of dysfunction in Congress that’s paralyzing.”

The Obama administration is unhappy that Congress has not yet reauthorized No Child Left Behind (President Obama wanted the law reauthorized before the start of this school year), so he is dangling waivers in front of states thirsting for relief in exchange for their agreement to adopt the administration’s preferred education reforms, including national standards and tests. And because of the conditions, the temporary relief states get from the waivers will be quickly followed by an increase in Washington’s power over state educational decisions.

We’ve seen Washington’s role in education grow over the past four and a half decades, wresting control away from states and localities, while doing little to improve student outcomes. Leaders like Rep. John Kline in the House are thoughtfully considering how best to reform the nation’s education system. The Education and the Workforce Committee has been holding hearings and has passed several proposals that provide alternatives to NCLB and work to reduce the federal footprint.

But the president apparently thinks time’s up for the usual Congressional processes. President Obama is re-writing NCLB – the nation’s largest education law – from the White House. Once again, his administration is bypassing Congress in order to push policies that would not otherwise survive the normal legislative process.