Tennessee’s Senator Lamar Alexander to “Fix” No Child Left Behind (NCLB)

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In The Tennessean this week was an article about how Lamar Alexander – the new chairman of the US Senate Education Committee, the current US Senator from Tennessee, and the former US Secretary of Education under former President George Bush Senior – is planning on “fixing” No Child Left Behind (NCLB). See another Tennessean article about this last week as well, here. This is good news, also given this is coming from Tennessee – one of our states to watch given its history of  value-added reforms tied to NCLB tests.

NCLB, even though it has not been reauthorized since 2002 (despite a failed attempt in 2007) is still foundational to current test-based reforms, including those that tie federal funds to the linking of students’ (NCLB) test scores to students’ teachers to measure teacher-level value-added. To date, for example, 42 states have been granted NCLB waivers for not getting 100% of their students to 100% proficiency in mathematics and reading/language arts by 2014, as long as states adopted and implemented federal reforms based on common core tests and began tying test scores to teacher quality using growth/value-added measures. This was in exchange for the federal educational funds on which states also rely.

Well, Lamar apparently believes that this is precisely what needs fixing. “The law has become unworkable,” Alexander said. “States are struggling. As a result, we need to act.”

More specifically, Senator Alexander wants to:

  • take power away from the US Department of Education, which he often refers to as our country’s “national school board.”
  • prevent the US Department of Education from further pressuring schools to adopt certain tests and standards.
  • prevent current US Secretary of Education Duncan from continuing to hold “states over a barrel,” forcing them to do what he has wanted them to do to avoid being labeled failures.
  • “set realistic goals, keep the best portions of the law, and restore to states and communities the responsibility to decide whether schools and teachers are succeeding or failing.” Although, Alexander has still been somewhat neutral regarding the future role of tests.

“Are there too many? Are they redundant? Are they the right tests? I’m open on the question,” Alexander said.

As noted by the journalist of this article, however, this is the biggest concern with this (potentially) big win for education in that “There is broad agreement that students should be tested less, but what agency wants to relinquish the ability to hold teachers, administrators and school districts accountable for the money we [as a public] spend on education?” Current US Secretary of Education Duncan, for example, believes if we don’t continue down his envisioned path, “we [will] turn back the clock on educational progress, 15 years or more.” This from a guy who has built his political career on the fact that educators have made no educational progress; hence, this is the reason we need to hold teachers accountable for the lack of progress thereof.

We shall see how this one goes, I guess.

For an excellent “Dear Lamar” letter, from Lamar Alexander’s former Assistant Secretary of Education who served under Lamar when he was US Secretary of Education under former President Bush Senior, click here. It’s a wonderful letter written by Diane Ravitch; wonderful becuase it includes so many recommendations highlighting that which could be at this potential turning point in federal policy.

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