Don’t worry. The Department of Education says we can trust that the Obama Administration’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver plan is the best solution for improving public schools.

In a letter to the editor in The Washington Post on July 25, Education Secretary Arne Duncan asserted that the waiver system has clear goals to “protect children, set a high bar and provide as much flexibility as possible.”

But far from providing “flexibility,” the Administration’s conditions-based waivers merely trade one federal overreach for another. Waivers may give states temporary relief from the onerous provisions of NCLB but only in return for adopting the Obama Administration’s preferred policies.

The most disquieting of these policies are “college and career ready” education standards (also known as Common Core education standards), which Duncan unabashedly declares “states also agreed to adopt…in exchange for waivers.”

Implementing Washington-controlled education standards means that states, local school boards, and ultimately parents will have less say in their children’s education. If parents are dissatisfied with what is being taught, they can’t bring their concerns to the federal government like they could to their local school board. These standards will make schools more accountable to the federal government and more entangled in red tape from Washington.

In contrast, the conservative alternative to NCLB, the Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success (A-PLUS) Act offers genuine flexibility. Unlike Obama Administration waivers, A-PLUS offers states the opportunity to completely opt out of NCLB and implement their own plans for education reform. States, in cooperation with local school boards and parents, are able to use funds as they—not Washington—think best.

Conservatives and liberals alike acknowledge NCLB’s failure. The law’s 600-plus pages of legislative language and thousands of pages of regulations burden state and local leaders and have failed to help students. But unlike Duncan’s waiver process, A-PLUS gives states real freedom from the provisions of NCLB and allows them true flexibility in their education systems. A-PLUS limits federal involvement in favor of local control because it is the parents and local leaders who know what is best for their schools—not the federal government.

Teresa Shumay is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit