Congress awaits President’s signature on new education law

Published 8:48 am Tuesday, December 8, 2015

NW1208 Alexander
After months of debate and a joint Congressional committee to hash out differences, the Every Child Achieves Act could become the law of the land as early as this week.
In a telephone interview on Monday, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn), who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said he expects President Barack Obama to sign the ECAA. If signed, the law would restore the responsibility of educational improvement to states, communities and teachers.
The bipartisan bill, which passed a Senate vote in July of 81-17, allows states to develop their own accountability systems and requires multiple measures to assess student success while maintaining some federal testing and reporting. A similar bill passed in the House of Representatives and a joint committee was formed to work out differences in the two bills and present one single bill to the White House to be signed into law.
“It’s the biggest step in 25 years to see how teachers, students and schools are succeeding or failing,” said Alexander.
According to Alexander, the bill would reverse the trend towards a national school board governing over community matters, an authority he believes should be returned to states. The current system has local school boards playing a game of “Mother May I?” with the US Department of Education. Alexander said.
“The best national education policy is for states to work together,” said Alexander. “I have never felt that Tennessee needed Washington’s supervision.”
He noted the progress Tennessee was making on student assessment in the 1990s, calling Tennessee a “pioneer” in relating student achievement to teacher performance.
He noted former Gov. Phil Bredeson’s initiatives for higher standards in teacher evaluation, and said governors have been working on this for more than 20 years.
According to Alexander, the bill would prohibit Congress from mandating education and from determining which students are failing or succeeding.
“Our country works differently than Belgium and Switzerland and other small countries,” he said. “We grew up community by community, and people really don’t want Washington in control of local schools.”
An example of how this will benefit Tennesseans, he said, is the school systems will no longer need national approval to make every local decision. If a Chattanooga school system wanted to adopt a teacher evaluation program, it would not need approval from the US Department of Education, he said.
“If a school is not doing very well and needs to be fixed, there are today seven prescribed ways to fix schools, and if you don’t follow those, you can’t do it,” he said. “So that assumes that Washington has more wisdom to fix a school in Chattanooga than the educators there.”
One of the biggest outcries to which the bill responds is the excess of federally mandated testing, an accountability mandate of No Child Left Behind. The ECAA would still require a total of 17 federal tests given to students over a span of grades 3-12, but would allow teachers, school systems and states to determine how to respond to the results.
It would also require the reporting of disaggregated data so that schools can measure if certain students are falling behind and act appropriately to assist them.
In response to how state education systems will remain consistent across the nation, Alexander said state systems do not have to be the same, for example one state having charter schools does not mean all states must have charter schools.
“Our country operates community by community, and a national school board not only doesn’t work in this country, it’s not what people want,” he said.

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