Weekly Column by Lamar Alexander: “The U.S. Senate Has a Consensus on How to Fix No Child Left Behind”

Posted on July 20, 2015

On July 16, the U.S. Senate passed the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 81-17. What that says to me and should say to the American people is that not only is there a consensus in this country that everybody wants to fix No Child Left Behind, it means that the U.S. Senate has a consensus on how to fix it.  

It is truly remarkable that the Senate was able to take a look at the 100,000 schools in this country, the 50 million children and the 3.5 million teachers and say, “We hear you. We know you want to end the confusion, end the anxiety, and the feeling that you are not in charge of your own children. We have listened to you, we have come up with a solution with which you agree, and we voted on that by a vote of 81-17.”

It has been said that the Senate is the one authentic piece of genius in the American political system. The only claim we would have to that exalted description would be that we are the only part of government that is created for the purpose of developing consensus. Our job in the Senate is to take all the different points of view, to consult with each other, and to see whether we can create the kind of consensus so that when people look at the Senate and see a result they may say, “Well, I am not sure I agree with every single thing they did, but if 81 senators of both parties out of 100 believe this is the right way to fix No Child Left Behind, I will accept it.”

The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 would end federal mandates or incentives on Common Core – as well as any ability of the Education Secretary to control state standards. The bill would also keep No Child Left Behind’s 17 federal tests but give states responsibility for creating accountability systems as well as responsibility for determining the weight of test results in assessing school performance. 

This legislation would end the need for waivers from the law but also prohibit any Education Secretary from using waivers to mandate additional requirements for states or school districts. The bill would also help states expand their best charter schools, evaluate their teachers, fix their lowest-performing schools and address the fragmentation of early childhood education programs – but it does not prescribe or mandate how or under what circumstances states must do those things.

On the Senate floor, we’ve considered 78 amendments, adopted 65, rejected 13, and passed a bill that says that the path to higher standards, better teaching and real accountability is through the states and local communities, not Washington, D.C. Now our job is to work with the House to produce a conference report that we can send to the president’s desk.

This is a day that I am very proud of for the U.S. Senate and for the 50 million children, 3.5 million teachers and 100,000 schools. It’s a big step forward.