Alexander: House, Senate Conference Committee Begins Process to Fix No Child Left Behind, a “Law That Everyone Wants to Fix”

Posted on November 18, 2015

Says there is consensus on how to fix law that “teachers and children and parents have been waiting seven years” for Congress to fix

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“There are a lot of people counting on us to get a result: 50 million children and 3.4 million teachers in 100,000 public schools.”

WASHINGTON, D.C., Nov. 18 – At the meeting today of the joint House and Senate conference committee to fix No Child Left Behind, the chairman of the Senate education committee said that members of Congress have the opportunity to get a result and fix the law that Newsweek magazine called “the law that everybody wants fixed.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said, “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 fix it.

“And that consensus is this – Continue the law’s important measures 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 is why in the Senate the bill passed 81-17.”

Alexander said that both the House- and Senate-passed bills to fix No Child Left Behind “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. Both end the federal Common Core mandate.

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

He continued, “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] like a president named Reagan once advised, that I will take 80 percent of what I want and fight for the other 20 percent on another day.

“Besides, if I were to vote no, I would be voting to leave in place the federal Common Core mandate, the national school board and the waivers in 42 states. Let me repeat that: Voting no is voting to leave in place the Common Core mandate, the national school board, and waivers in 42 states.

“As members of Congress, after we have our say, our job is to get a result. …We are members of the United States Congress, and I hope that we will demonstrate that we cherish that privilege of serving and that we cherish our children by building upon the consensus that we have: fixing the law that everybody wants fixed and showing that we are capable of governing by bringing badly needed certainty to federal education policy in 100,000 public schools.”

Alexander’s full prepared remarks are below: 

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 fix it.

And that consensus is this – Continue the law’s important measures 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 is why in the Senate the bill passed 81-17.

And that is why the bill had the support of the National Governors Association, the Chief State School Officers, the school superintendents, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

There were some differences between the House bill and Senate bill. But, fundamentally, both were based upon that same consensus.

Both 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.

Both end the federal Common Core mandate.

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

That is why I believe this conference will be successful, that both houses will approve our conference work product and the president will sign the legislation into law.

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. It needed 60.

So I have decided, like a president named Reagan once advised, that I will take 80 percent of what I want and fight for the other 20 percent on another day.

Besides, if I were to vote no, I would be voting to leave in place the federal Common Core mandate, the national school board and the waivers in 42 states. Let me repeat that: Voting no is voting to leave in place the Common Core mandate, the national school board, and waivers in 42 states.

There are a lot of people counting on us to get a result: 50 million children and 3.4 million teachers in 100,000 public schools.

This law expired seven years ago. It has become unworkable. If it were strictly applied, it would label nearly every school in America a failing school.

Teachers and children and parents have been waiting seven years for us to reauthorize this law.

If this were homework, they would give Congress an F for being tardy.

I hope we will remind ourselves that it is a great privilege to serve in the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate.

But there is no need for us to have that privilege if all we do is announce our different opinions.

We could do that at home, or on the radio, or the newspaper or the street corner.

As members of Congress, after we have our say, our job is to get a result.

We are not the Iraqi parliament.

We are members of the United States Congress, and I hope that we will demonstrate that we cherish that privilege and that we cherish our children by building upon this consensus—and  fixing the law that everybody wants fixed—and showing that we are capable of governing by bringing badly needed certainty to federal education policy in 100,000 public schools. 

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