Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) for December 2, 2007

"State Student Achievement Contract"

Posted on November 30, 2007

Although I am in support of reauthorizing No Child Left Behind Act, there are several parts of the legislation that need to be strengthened and expanded. New legislation that I support represents a sound foundation for eventual reauthorization of the former act while leaving in place the framework of the 2001 law: high goals, state standards, and disaggregated reporting of results. More importantly, it does not retreat from the bold goal that all children will be proficient in reading and math according to each state's standards by the 2013-2014 school year. I think we would be wise to find a different way to talk about the progress of schools in reaching those high goals. Most schools, at least today, are succeeding in reaching their State's No Child Left Behind standards. The same is true in Tennessee. According to our state’s Department of Education, there are 1,710 public schools. There were 245 -- or 15 percent -- which did not make adequate yearly progress. Of those, 127 didn't do it because of one subgroup. Therefore, I suggest we find a different way to talk about progress. Schools that reach their goals might be called "high-achieving schools." Schools that do so for more than one year in a row might be called the “highest achieving schools." Schools that, on the other hand, miss their goal by only one subgroup might be called "achieving schools," and those that do not do as well might be called priority schools. I recently introduced the State Student Achievement Contract which I will work to make a part of No Child Left Behind. This proposal would allow up to 12 states to negotiate with the U.S. Secretary of Education to enter into a state student achievement contract, which would permit states to improve their own systems of accountability, and in exchange, receive the necessary flexibility to find innovative ways to improve achievement. In other words, instead of saying: "Do it exactly this way" to the states, the federal government would be saying: "Give us results, and we will give you more flexibility." This proposal seeks to recognize that solutions are local, to encourage those states that are trying the boldest programs, and to permit the flexibility needed to achieve those results. One reason I have introduced this proposal is because the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind should not become a vehicle for increased federal control of local schools. But, unfortunately, Washington doesn't usually work that way. Our motto seems to be: Once we have stuck our noses into something, we will meddle with it forever. It ought to be the other way around. Finally, there are several special provisions of No Child Left Behind that need to be expanded: • Teaching American history. Several of my colleagues and I have worked to create some new provisions for this reauthorization which would encourage putting the teaching of American history back in its rightful place in our schools so our children can grow up learning what it means to be an American. • Presidential and congressional academies. The pilot programs for these summer academies for outstanding teachers and students of American history have been low cost and very successful. It is my hope that in a partnership with states and the private sector, these can be expanded to a total of 100 each summer. • A 10-State pilot program in U.S. history NAEP. Currently, the National Assessment of Education Progress -- the nation's report card -- only measures student achievement in history every four years. We don't get state-level data; only a national sample of student achievement. Senator Edward Kennedy and I have offered bi-partisan legislation to create a 10-State pilot program so there can be state-level data for 10 states, which will reflect the importance of this subject to our nation and call attention to student progress in American history. • Teacher Incentive Fund. After parents, nothing is more important to a child's success than the classroom teacher. Finding fair ways to pay teachers more for teaching well is not easy. But during the last five years, the Teacher Incentive Fund has helped at least three dozen cities, usually working with local teachers' unions, to find new ways to train and reward outstanding teachers and principals. • Charter schools. The idea of a public charter school is simply to give teachers the freedom to use their common sense and their skills to help the children who are presented to them -- freedom from federal, state, and union rules so they can do it. It is nonsensical to me that we don't encourage, rather than discourage, such public charter schools. Most of our children are learning, but for the 15 percent or so who are having genuinely special challenges in learning, it will take different kinds of schools, even better teachers and different methods. In this reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, we must do all of these things to cause that to happen.