Maryville Daily Times: Vote on ‘Every Child’ bill demonstrates power of knowledge

Posted on April 21, 2015

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander concluded his weekly communication to constituents with words likely to prove prophetic.

Referring to the Senate education committee agreement last week to fix the No Child Left Behind Act, he wrote: “We’ve got a long way to go, but we are off to a good start.”

There’s reason for the tempered optimism. Intransigence on both sides of the aisle killed every previous efforts to repair No Child Left Behind and reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The 19-0 vote by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is a slam dunk worthy of cheers from the rafters.

The unanimous committee vote for the Every Child Achieves Act was a victory for common sense and a vote of confidence in Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who built the bill — dare we say — brick by brick. The bipartisan agreement was reached after the committee considered 58 amendments and approved 29.

Alexander describes the consensus this way: “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.”

How was it that Alexander and Murray achieved this consensus? They both wanted to fix this thing, obviously, instead of seeking political windmills to tilt at.

There was something deeper at work, though. Alexander, chair of the Senate education committee, is the son of a kindergarten teacher and an elementary school principal. He has been U.S. Education secretary and a university president. Murray, ranking member of the committee, was an education volunteer and advocate, school board member and community college instructor.

In other words, they know something — a lot of something — about what they’re doing. They are steeped in education and have demonstrated their dedication to it. Knowledge counts.

Now that the bill is going to the full Senate, people not so knowledgeable will get their shot at amending it. Then there’s the House, where different legislation will originate.

Still, the unanimous vote by the full committee is a momentum builder. As Alexander wrote, the vote “shows a strong consensus on the urgent need to fix the law and how to fix it.” Next up — do it.