Students of history know that governments rarely give up power without a fight. To paraphrase Edmund Burke, those who have been intoxicated with power never willingly abandon it. Yet, last year, the federal government passed a new education law which returns a significant amount of power and decision-making authority to states, districts, and schools.
The bi-partisan passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act creates a unique and exciting opportunity for improving American education. The law explicitly bars the Department of Education from dictating or influencing standards or curricula at the federal level, and states and districts have a wide range of new liberties when it comes to developing accountability systems, testing, and content.
But with this newfound freedom from Washington comes a newfound responsibility for excellence at the state and district level. We cannot confuse local control with laissez faire. State and local leaders must embrace this opportunity and lift expectations, not relax them.
This is a large task and will require some heavy lifting, though. For years, states have been in compliance mode—overly focused on meeting detailed federal criteria—and that mindset has lulled some states into complacency. But that is the case no longer. Authority over American education has...