Alexander: New Education Law is “Dramatic Change in Direction for Federal Education Policy” but “Not Worth the Paper it’s Printed on Unless Implemented Properly”

Tells Education Secretary nominee that, if confirmed, he’ll work with him to implement law “as Congress wrote it”

Posted on February 25, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 25 – The chairman of the Senate education committee today told the president’s nominee for Education Secretary that the Senate is ready to help implement the new bipartisan law that fixes No Child Left Behind “as Congress wrote it.

At a hearing on Dr. John King’s nomination, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said: “Our new Every Student Succeeds law is an important change in direction and it is excellent policy.  It should provide a much-needed period of stability for federal policy in schools for several years.  But we all know that a law is not worth the paper it is printed on unless it is implemented the way Congress wrote it.”  

He added: “That is why I am glad the president has appointed an education secretary who can be confirmed and be accountable to the United States Senate and if you are confirmed, I look forward to working with you to help you and our new law succeed for the benefit of 50 million children and 3.5 million teachers in 100,000 public schools.”

In December at the ceremony where President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, the new law to fix No Child Left Behind, Alexander urged the president to send to the Senate a nominee to be Education Secretary to replace Arne Duncan.

“I did that because this is such an important year for our nation’s schools,” Alexander said today. “We need an Education Secretary who is confirmed and accountable to Congress while we’re implementing a law that may govern elementary and secondary education for some time.  I want to be sure that we are working together to implement the law as Congress wrote it. 

The Every Student Succeeds Act passed the United States Senate by a vote of 85-12.  Nineteen of the 22 members of the Senate education committee voted for it. “I believe it is fair to say that every member of this committee made some contribution to the result,” Alexander said

He added: “We achieved this result because, as Newsweek said, this was a law that everyone wanted fixed and fixing it was long overdue.  Not only was there a consensus about the need to fix the law, there was a consensus about how to fix it and it was this:  Continue the important measures of the academic progress of students, disaggregate the results of those tests and report them so everyone can know how school, teacher and children are doing—and then restore to states, school districts and classroom teachers and parents the responsibility for deciding what to do about those tests and about improving student achievement.”

“This new law is a dramatic change in direction for federal education policy.  In short, it reverses the trend toward what had become, in effect, a national school board, and restores to those closest to children the responsibility for their well-being and academic success,” Alexander said.

The Wall Street Journal called the new Every Student Succeeds Act “the largest devolution of federal control of schools from Washington back to the states in a quarter of a century.”

The new law ends the federal Common Core mandate, explicitly prohibiting Washington from mandating or even incentivizing Common Core or any other specific academic standards. 

It ends the highly qualified teacher definition and requirements, teacher evaluation mandates, federal school turnaround models, federal test-based accountability and adequate yearly progress.

Alexander said, “It moves decisions about whether schools and teachers and students are succeeding or failing out of Washington, D.C., and back to states and communities and classroom teachers where those decisions belong.”

Below are the senator’s prepared remarks:

Good afternoon.

I am very glad that we are having this hearing today.

In December at the ceremony where President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, the new law to fix No Child Left Behind, I urged the president to send to the Senate a nominee to be Education Secretary to replace Arne Duncan.

I did that because this is such an important year for our nation’s schools. We need an Education Secretary who is confirmed and accountable to Congress while we’re implementing a law that may govern elementary and secondary education for some time.  I want to be sure that we are working together to implement the law as Congress wrote it. 

So I congratulate you on your nomination.

And if you’ll permit a personal note: This very month 25 years ago I was sitting in the same position as you testifying before the same committee at a hearing for my nomination to serve as President George HW Bush’s Education Secretary. 

That hearing lasted four hours – but we won’t likely do that to you today.

My appointment was announced in December. I was confirmed March 14.   I suspect you’ll have better luck.

Senator Dan Coats was on this committee then and he said this at that hearing 25 years ago: “Many of the States are way ahead of the Federal Government in terms of opening themselves up to more innovative solutions” in education.

That was true then and it’s true now.

On December 10, President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act.  It passed the United States Senate by a vote of 85-12.  Nineteen of the 22 members of this committee voted for it. I believe it is fair to say that every member of this committee made some contribution to the result.  

We achieved this result because, as Newsweek said, this was a law that everyone wanted fixed and fixing it was long overdue.  Not only was there a consensus about the need to fix the law, there was a consensus about how to fix it and it was this:  Continue the important measures of the academic progress of students, disaggregate the results of those tests and report them so everyone can know how school, teacher and children are doing—and then restore to states, school districts and classroom teachers and parents the responsibility for deciding what to do about those tests and about improving student achievement.

This new law is a dramatic change in direction for federal education policy.  In short, it reverses the trend toward what had become, in effect, a national school board, and restores to those closest to children the responsibility for their well-being and academic success.

The Wall Street Journal called the new Every Student Succeeds Act “the largest devolution of federal control of schools from Washington back to the states in a quarter of a century.”

I believe the new law can inaugurate a new era of innovation in student achievement, by putting the responsibility for children back in the hands of those closest to them: the parents, the classroom teachers, principals, school boards and states.

It’s so important that the nation’s governors gave it their first full endorsement of any piece of legislation since their endorsement of welfare reform 20 years ago.  It has the support of organizations that do not always see eye to eye.

In fact, almost every education organization that supported the bill is already beginning to work together to help to implement it. We held a hearing with several of them on Tuesday. They have formed a coalition made up of the:

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

With the support of the Chief State School Officers.

You know this because they have already sent you a letter in which they said:

“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 accurately reflects the consensus forged by these disparate organizations and by Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

This consensus ended the practice of granting conditional 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. Governors have been forced to go to Washington and play “Mother, May I?” in order to put in a plan to evaluate teachers or help a low performing school, for example.

That era is now over.

This law ends what had become, in effect, a federal Common Core mandate. It explicitly prohibits Washington from mandating or even incentivizing Common Core or any other specific academic standards. 

It ends the highly qualified teacher definition and requirements, teacher evaluation mandates, federal school turnaround models, federal test-based accountability and adequate yearly progress.

It moves decisions about whether schools and teachers and students are succeeding or failing out of Washington, D.C., and back to states and communities and classroom teachers where those decisions belong.

This hearing provides Congress with the opportunity to ask questions, learn more about your background, and get your commitment to work with us if you are confirmed.

My colleagues and I will have questions about such important issues as:

Should parents have the right to opt their child out of federally mandated tests? How will you balance the new law’s requirements on that important issue with deference to state and local decision making?

How will you manage the Department’s $1 trillion portfolio of student loans?

How do you plan to deal with the issues raised by Chairman Chaffetz about the security of information technology systems at the Department?

What are your plans for addressing the Office for Civil Rights’ practice of treating guidance issued without notice and comment as binding for our nation’s college campuses on the serious issue of campus sexual assault?

You have been a public school student, a teacher, you founded a charter school, served as Education Commissioner in New York, a state of nearly 20 million, with responsibility for more than 7,000 public schools as well as 270 colleges and universities. You were delegated the duties of deputy secretary of education under Secretary Duncan, and you are also the father of two children.

You have seen our education system from nearly every angle.

As you and I have discussed, I believe that if you are confirmed we will be able to work together not only to implement the new law governing elementary and secondary education but that we can take some bipartisan steps to make it easier and less expensive for students to go to college and that we can begin to cut through the jungle of red tape that is strangling our 6,000 institutions of high education.  

Many of these steps are well underway.  They have broad support and we should finish the job.

So I look forward to hearing from you today. 

Our new Every Student Succeeds law is an important change in direction and it is excellent policy.  It should provide a much-needed period of stability for federal policy in schools for several years.  But we all know that a law is not worth the paper it is printed on unless it is implemented the way Congress wrote it.  

That is why I am glad the president has appointed an education secretary who can be confirmed and be accountable to the United States Senate and if you are confirmed, I look forward to working with you to help you and our new law succeed for the benefit of 50 million children and 3.5 million teachers in 100,000 public schools. 

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