Alexander Begins Hearings Today to “Make Sure Education Law is Implemented the Way Congress Wrote It”

Says “the real path to higher standards is through the states, cities and classrooms, and not through Washington, DC.”

Posted on February 23, 2016

WASHINGTON, February 23 – Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today gaveled in the Senate education committee’s first hearing to ensure the new law fixing No Child Left Behind is “implemented as Congress intended, because a law not properly implemented isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.”

Alexander said, “I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about how we implement this law to spur a period of innovation and excellence, that I'm sure will be the result of this new era of accountability and responsibility and opportunity placed in the hands of those who should have the responsibility for our children and our schools.”

Alexander urged the witnesses to form state coalitions “to work together to ensure a timely, fair transition to the new law, and promote state and local decision-making.”

The chairman’s full prepared remarks for today’s hearing are below:

In December, the president signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act, a bill to fix No Child Left Behind, which Newsweek Magazine said was the law that “everyone wanted to fix.”

The Wall Street Journal called the Every Student Succeeds Act “the largest devolution of federal power to the states in a quarter century.”

There was a consensus that this was a law that everybody wanted fixed, but we also had a consensus about how to fix it:

Keep the 17 federally required state-designed tests between grades three and 12, so we can know how our children are doing. But restore back to the classroom teachers, local school boards and communities, the responsibility for what to do about those tests.

The Every Student Succeeds Act very clearly changed the way the Department of Education does business, and very clearly put states, school districts, principals, teachers and parents back in charge.

Gone are the federal common core mandate, what I would call “Mother May I” conditional waivers, highly qualified teacher definitions and requirements, teacher evaluation mandates, federal school turnaround models, federal test-based accountability and adequate yearly progress.

The Secretary is specifically prohibited from telling states how to set academic standards, how to evaluate state tests, how to identify and fix low-performing schools, teacher evaluation systems, and setting state goals for student achievement and graduation rates.

But a law not properly implemented isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

This year, a major priority of this committee will be to make sure this bill is implemented as Congress intended.

This legislation was truly a bipartisan effort, and I think it’s fair to say that every member of this committee made a contribution to the final product that was signed by President Obama.

This is a law that 85 senators out of 100 voted in favor of. 19 out of 22 members of this committee voted for it.

It overwhelmingly passed the House, and the President signed it on December 10, 2015, in a White House ceremony calling it “a Christmas miracle.”

This is the first of six hearings we will hold this year to make sure that the law is being implemented in the way that Congress wrote it. The House of Representatives will do the same thing.

It looks like we’ll have some support doing this.

This law was written and passed with the support and input of a host of groups that do not always work together. That is: governors, chief state school officers, school superintendents, teachers unions, school boards, principals and PTAs.

Many of these organizations are represented here today by our witnesses.

In front of each of the members of the committee is a letter to the acting Secretary of Education John King from a coalition of most of these organizations.

The letter says: “Although our organizations do not always agree, we are unified in our belief that ESSA is an historic opportunity to make a world-class 21st century education system. And we're dedicated to working together at the national level to facilitate partnership among our members and states and districts to guarantee the success of this new law."

“The new law replaces a top-down accountability and testing regime with an inclusive system based on collaborative state and local innovation. For this vision to become a reality, we must work together to closely honor congressional intent: ESSA is clear. Education decision making now rests with states and districts, and the federal role is to support and inform those decisions."

This letter was sent from:

  • The National Governors Association
  • The School Superintendents Association
  • The National Education Association
  • The American Federation of Teachers
  • The National Conference of State Legislatures
  • The National Association of State Boards of Education
  • The National School Board Association
  • The National Association of Elementary School Principals
  • The National Association of Secondary School Principals
  • The National Teachers Association

It also has the support of the Chief State School Officers.

My objectives here in the committee will be the same that are in this letter: work together to ensure a timely, fair transition to the new law, and promote state and local decision-making. 

In other words, make sure that what happens is what Congress said should happen.

This coalition and letter is an excellent first step.

An excellent second step is the president’s decision to nominate John King as Education Secretary rather than go a whole year without someone confirmed and accountable to the Senate and the American people.

I said to the president at the signing ceremony for this bill in December that if he would send us a nominee, the Education committee would have a fair hearing and markup and, barring some kind of ethical issue, work to have that person promptly confirmed.

The president sent his nomination on February 11 and we will have a hearing with Dr. King this Thursday.

What are the next steps?

I addressed the National Governors Association on Sunday and thanked them for their lead in helping to pass the bill, and for being a part of the coalition that will seek to make sure that it’s implemented the way Congress wrote it.

I asked each Governor to form his or her own state coalition and include, representatives of the members of the national coalition: chief state school officers, teachers, principals, state legislatures, school districts, school boards and parents.

I said to them that I expect that this transfer of power from Washington to states, cities and classrooms will unleash a period of innovation and excellence.

It will remind us that the real path to higher standards is through the states, cities and classrooms, and not through Washington, DC.

My hope is that the coalition will work together to help states develop their new Title I and Title II plans by July 1, 2017, so that they can be effective in the 2017-2018 school year.

And I want to ask those of you who are testifying here today, on behalf of 7 of those organizations, to communicate with our committee about how you believe the Department is responding to your thoughts and feedback.

I look forward to the discussion today and I thank each of our witnesses for being here and for working so hard to pass this law.

I’d also like to thank Senator Murray who was really superb in helping get a result that evaded the Senate for eight years.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about how we implement this law to spur a period of innovation and excellence, that I'm sure will be the result of this new era of accountability and responsibility and opportunity placed in the hands of those who should have the responsibility for our children and our schools.  

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For access to this release and the senator’s other statements, click here.

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