Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

On Friday, the U. S. Department of Education sent a letter to Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, threatening to revoke the state’s waiver from No Child Left Behind – because Indiana exited the Common Core national standards last month.

The letter states:

“IDOE (Indiana Department of Education) met ED (Department of Education) requirements in its approved ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act/[No Child Left Behind]) flexibility request through the 2013-14 school year by adopting and implementing standards common to a significant number of States. Because the IDOE will no longer implement those standards, IDOE must amend its ESEA flexibility request and provide evidence that its new standards are certified by a State network of IHEs (Institutions of Higher Education) that students who meet the standards will not need remedial coursework at the postsecondary level.”

The saga of NCLB waivers is further evidence of the administration’s clear fingerprints on what is ostensibly a “state-led” effort.

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Education circumvented the normal legislative process (through which a law like No Child Left Behind would be amended and reauthorized) by offering each state “flexibility” waivers from some of the more onerous federal mandates in NCLB. Those waivers were offered to states in part in exchange for adopting “college and career-ready standards” or standards that were “common to a significant number of states,” which most states understood to mean Common Core.

Although the Secretary of Education has authority to offer waivers from parts of the law, the  executive branch policymaking represented by the waiver pacts sets concerning precedent and grows the department’s power over state and local education decision-making.

Indiana’s Senate Enrolled Act 91, which removed Indiana from Common Core, requires the state to develop new college- and career-ready standards by July 1, to be implemented for the 2014-15 school year. The law also requires school districts in Indiana to administer the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress Plus (ISTEP+) assessments through the 2014-15 school year.  The problem is that the administration does not view its new standards or testing regime as “meeting expectations” – despite the fact Indiana’s pre-Common Core state standards were ranked among the highest in the nation.

In its letter to Ritz, the U.S. Department of Education gives Indiana 60 days – until July 1 – to implement administration-compliant “next steps.” These include submitting amendments to its approved ESEA flexibility request to “develop appropriate monitoring supports for the transition of all students to college-and-career-ready standards… and submit an amendment to its ESEA flexibility request consisting of a high-quality plan to administer a high-quality assessment aligned with college-and-career-ready standards, in reading/language arts and mathematics by the 2014-15 school year.”

Indiana’s work to remove Hoosiers from Common Core has paved the way for other states looking to exit the national standards boondoggle. And if state autonomy is something other states cherish, it’s a path they should follow. Because the letters issued to Indiana (and several other states) show just how weak the phrases “state-led” and “voluntary” became when used to describe Common Core.