Weekly Column by Lamar Alexander: Restoring Responsibility to States, School Districts, Classroom Teachers and Parents for Decisions on Standards and Improving Student Achievement in Our Schools

Posted on April 20, 2015

            Last week the Senate education committee, which I chair, voted unanimously to send to the full Senate a bipartisan legislative agreement to fix No Child Left Behind and end the federal mandate on Common Core. The committee vote followed three days of discussion and debate by Committee members and the consideration of several amendments. Now the bill is ready to be taken up by the full Senate with the same opportunity for amendment, discussion, and debate.

            Our committee found a consensus about the urgent need to fix the problems with the law as well as a remarkable consensus about how to fix them.

            That consensus is this: Continue the law’s important measurements of academic progress of students but restore to states, school districts, classroom teachers and parents the responsibility for deciding what to do about improving student achievement. This change should produce fewer tests and more appropriate ways to measure student achievement. It is the most effective path to advance higher state standards, better teaching, and real accountability. 

            The Every Child Achieves Act, the bipartisan legislative agreement I reached with the committee's senior Democrat Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ends federal test-based accountability and restores state and local responsibility for creating systems holding schools and teachers accountable. State accountability systems must meet limited federal guidelines, including challenging academic standards for all students, but the federal government is prohibited from determining or approving state standards or even incentivizing states into adopting specific standards. In other words, whether a state adopts Common Core is entirely that state’s decision. This transfer of responsibility is why we believe our proposal will result in fewer and more appropriate tests.

            The bill also allows, but does not require, states to develop and implement teacher evaluation systems that link student achievement to teacher performance. States will be allowed to use federal funds to implement evaluations the way they see fit.

            States will identify their lowest-performing schools and receive federal funds to assist those schools but the federal government will not mandate specific steps to fix those schools.

            If senators were students in a classroom, none of us would expect to receive a passing grade for unfinished work. Seven years is long enough to consider how to fix No Child Left Behind.

            Last week, the committee considered 58 amendments and approved 29, to improve the bipartisan agreement. 

            The fact that our committee was able to achieve unanimous support of the full committee – which is about a fourth of the Senate – shows a strong consensus on the urgent need to fix the law and how to fix it.

            We’ve got a long way to go, but we are off to a good start.