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GOP: Our Goal Is To Fix ‘No Child Left Behind’

Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., presses for the passage of an education reform bill in the U.S. Senate that is designed to fix flaws in the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act.

Alexander was Tuesday’s KVML “Newsmaker of the Day”. Here are his words:

“Hello, I’m Senator Lamar Alexander.

This week and next, Congress is working on what a national news magazine called ‘the education law that everyone wants to fix.’

That law, of course, is No Child Left Behind, enacted in 2001 and today causing confusion and anxiety in our country’s 100,000 public schools.

Not only is there consensus about the need to fix No Child Left Behind, but there’s also remarkable consensus about how to fix it.

That consensus is this: Continue the law’s important measurements 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.

This change should produce fewer tests for our students and more appropriate ways to measure their achievement. It is the most effective plan to advance higher state academic standards, better teaching, and real accountability.

How did our schools get in such a fix? There’s plenty of blame to go around.

The problems with No Child Left Behind have been created by a combination of presidential action and congressional inaction.

No Child Left Behind expired in 2007 but Congress has been unable to agree on how to reauthorize it. As a result, the law’s original requirements have stayed in place and gradually become unworkable. This has caused almost all of America’s public schools to be classified as failing under the terms of the law.

So, to avoid this bizarre result, President Obama’s Education Secretary offered waivers from the terms of the law. But in return, the Secretary told each of the 42 states currently operating under waivers exactly what academic standards to use, exactly what steps to take to address failing schools, and exactly how to evaluate teachers.

So much new federal control of local schools has produced a backlash against Common Core academic standards, against teacher evaluation, and against tests in general.

Governors and chief state school officers complain about federal overreach. Infuriated teachers say that the U.S. Department of Education has become a ‘National Human Resources Department or,’ they say, ‘in effect, a national school board.’

No issue has stirred as much controversy as testing. No Child Left Behind required students to take 17 standardized tests over the course of their Kindergarten through the 12th grade education, and it attached high stakes for schools, school districts, and states to the results.

As we studied the problem, the issue seemed not to be so much the federal tests, but the stakes attached to them.

A third grader, for example, is required to take only one test in math and one in reading.

But the accountability system for what to do about the test results has contributed to the exploding number of state and local tests—they were given to prepare students for the high-stakes federal tests.

“So our proposal maintains the reading, math and science tests established in 2001. The test results would be reported publicly so parents know how their children are performing – and the results are ‘disaggregated,’ so parents know how students of a particular gender, ethnicity, or disability are doing.

But it ends the high stakes system that caused the cascade of tests. Instead, we restore state and local responsibility for creating systems to hold schools and teachers accountable.

Our bill also prohibits the federal government from telling states what their standards must be, or mandating or coercing states to use a certain set of standards.

In other words, whether your state adopts Common Core is entirely your state’s decision.

Our bill will help states improve their early childhood education programs, evaluate teachers if they would like, and expand high-quality charter schools – but it will not tell them how to do it.

This bill has the support of teachers’ organizations, school superintendents, school board members, chief state school officers and governors.

The bill is just one more example that Congress is back to work and dealing with important issues that secure our country from overseas terrorism and make us stronger at home.

In the last two Congresses, discussions fell apart because of partisan differences. This year, Senator Murray, the Senate education committee’s senior Democrat, suggested that she and I write a bipartisan bill. We had a full debate in committee and we are the middle of a full debate on the Senate floor.

This is how the Senate is supposed to work.

How well our children are learning is much more important than any political game.

Our goal is to pass both houses of Congress, earn the president’s signature, and fix the law.

If fixing No Child Left Behind were a standardized test, Congress would have earned a failing grade for each of the last seven years that it couldn’t agree how to fix it.

I hope this time around, Congress will improve its grade and improve the future for 50 million children in 100,000 public schools.”

The “Newsmaker of the Day” is heard every weekday morning on AM 1450 KVML at 6:45, 7:45 and 8:45 AM.