Weekly Column by Lamar Alexander: The Winners This Week Are 50 Million Children and Three Million Teachers In 100,000

Posted on November 20, 2015

The winners this week are 50 million children and 3.4 million teachers in 100,000 public schools.

That’s because the House and Senate conference committee were able to agree to a framework that would restore to states, communities, and teachers the responsibility for improving student achievement. Earlier this year, the Senate passed the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 81-17. The House also passed a bill fundamentally based upon that same consensus. Our job in the conference was to reconcile these two bills, and the framework we passed Thursday was the result. We are turning the agreement into legislation that I believe Congress will pass and the president will sign in December.

Newsweek magazine recently reminded us what we already knew very well: No Child Left Behind is a law that everybody wants fixed. Governors, teachers, superintendents, parents, Republicans, Democrats, and students all want to see this law fixed.

There is a consensus about that.  And, fortunately, there is a consensus about how to do it.

And 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.

That’ s why (the senate bill) had the support of the nation’s governors, the Chief State School Officers, the school superintendents, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

The framework we agreed to Thursday would end the waivers through which the U.S. Department of Education has become, in effect, a national school board for more than 80,000 schools in 42 states.

It would end the federal Common Core mandate.

It would move decisions about whether schools and teachers are succeeding or failing out of Washington, D.C., and back to states and communities and teachers where those decisions belong because the real way to higher standards, better teachers and real accountability is through states, communities, and classrooms—not through Washington, D.C.

Even though this agreement, in my opinion, is the most significant step toward local control of schools in 25 years, some Republicans would like to go further. I am one of them.

But my Scholarship for Kids proposal, which would have given states the option to allow federal dollars to follow children to the schools their parents choose, only received 43 votes in the Senate. We needed 60. 

So I decided, like a president named Reagan once advised, that I would take 80 percent of what I wanted and I’ll fight for the other 20 percent on another day. 

Besides, if I had voted no, I would have been voting to leave in place the federal Common Core mandate, the national school board, and the waivers in 42 states.

No Child Left Behind expired seven years ago. Fifty million children, 3.4 million teachers and 100,000 public schools have been waiting all that time. If this were homework, they would give Congress a failing grade for being tardy.

The conference report was approved 39-1. It is a bipartisan, bicameral step forward to fix the No Child Left Behind law that everyone wants fixed. The United States Senate and House of Representatives should complete our work in December so that the president can sign it into law, and give everyone a fix before the end of the year.