The Tennessean: Let’s fix No Child Left Behind, end Common Core mandate

Posted on July 6, 2015

By: Lamar Alexander

Next week the United States Senate will begin debate on a bipartisan agreement to fix No Child Left Behind.

I negotiated this bill, the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, with the Senate education committee’s Ranking Member Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

We found a consensus about the urgent need to fix this law as well as a remarkable consensus about how to fix it.

That consensus was 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 legislation would end the federal mandate on Common Core — one of many ways it would put decisions about educating Tennessee’s children back in the hands of Gov. Haslam, the Tennessee legislature, our school districts, teachers and parents.

This bill will put an end to the national school board — preventing Washington from telling Tennessee what its academic standards ought to be or how it ought to be fixing its schools or how it ought to be evaluating its teachers.

These changes 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.

Here’s what this bill means for Tennessee:

• First, no more mandates on standards. The bill expressly prohibits the federal government from mandating or incentivizing any particular set of academic standards, such as Common Core, in Tennessee or any other state. Tennessee can choose Common Core if it likes, but it can’t be mandated by Washington.

• Second, fewer tests for our students. Tennessee students in third grade through 12th will continue the federally mandated tests — annually in reading and math and once in high school, and every three to four years in science. But the bill will remove the high stakes attached by Washington to those test results, so states and local school districts likely won’t require students to spend the same amount of time preparing for them.

• Third, more state and local control. Today the federal government tells states and school districts how to determine which of their schools have the worst performance — and how to fix them. Our bill says that it’s up to a state to determine which of their schools need improvement, and then it’s up to local school districts to decide how to fix those schools. Those decisions ought to be made by the Maryville City School Board or the Blount County School Board — not a national school board.

• Fourth, more high-quality charter schools. It will also help Tennessee expand and replicate the state’s best charter schools — giving more parents the ability to choose the school that is best for their child.

In April, our committee — which I chair — took up and began action on the bill.

After three days of debate and amendment, every single one of the committee’s 22 members voted in support of sending this bill to the Senate floor — with conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats voting together to move forward with the bill.

For over seven years, about 1 million children enrolled in Tennessee public schools have been going to school under an expired federal law — it’s time to fix No Child Left Behind.

If members of Congress were students in a classroom, none of us would expect to receive a passing grade for unfinished work.

I hope we can finish our business on the Senate floor, negotiate a bill in conference with the House of Representatives, and send a bill to the president for his signature before the end of the year.