- - Tuesday, July 7, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The United States Senate began debate Tuesday on a bill to fix the problems with No Child Left Behind, the federal law causing confusion and anxiety in our country’s 100,000 public schools.

This bill will end Washington’s Common Core mandate, expand our best charter schools, and stop over-testing and “teaching to the test” by restoring to states the responsibility for deciding how to use federal test scores in measuring school achievement.

Over the last 10 years, the federal government has become a national school board, telling Washington state how to evaluate teachers and telling Tennessee how to identify failing schools. Democrats and Republicans are all fed up with it.

This bill will give our children back to their teachers, principals and parents — those who know best how to help them learn what they need to know and be able to do.

As chairman of the Senate education committee, I worked for several months with my Democratic counterpart, Sen. Patty Murray, to reach this bipartisan agreement. We found remarkable consensus about the need to fix these problems, and also about how to fix them.



That consensus was this: We should continue the law’s important measurements of students’ academic progress but restore to states, school districts, classroom teachers and parents the responsibility for deciding what to do about the results of these measurements.

This change should produce fewer tests and more appropriate ways to measure student achievement. We believe this is the most effective path toward higher standards and better teaching.

When our bill passed the Senate education committee in April, it passed with the support of every single member.

If you’re a parent or a teacher, you know exactly why it’s urgent that we fix No Child Left Behind.

The 2001 law created federal requirements for determining whether a school or teacher is succeeding or failing and then prescribed what a state or school district must do about failure. The requirements were nearly impossible to meet and the prescribed solutions paralyzed states.

The law expired in 2007, but lawmakers have been unable to agree on how to reauthorize it. As a result, the law has stayed in place and its requirements have become unworkable.

In a bizarre result, nearly all of America’s public schools would be classified as failing under the 2001 law.

To avoid states suffering the resulting federal punishment under the law, President Obama’s education secretary has offered waivers from the law. But the secretary required the 42 states operating under waivers to adopt certain academic standards, take prescribed steps to help failing schools, and to evaluate teachers in a certain way.

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 K-12 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 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 contributed to the exploding number of state and local tests — they were given to prepare students for the high-stakes federal tests.

Our proposal maintains the reading, math and science tests established in 2001. The test results would be reported publicly so parents know how their child is 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. We instead 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 them to use a certain set of standards.

In other words, whether a state adopts Common Core is entirely that 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.

It’s time to return control to teachers, parents, principals, local school boards and governors — and finally get results for our 50 million children in 100,000 public schools.

Lamar Alexander, a Republican U.S. senator from Tennessee, is chairman of the Senate’s education committee.

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