A Senate education reform bill of the No Child Left Behind law will slash the role of the federal government, letting states decide if they want to adopt Common Core standards and expand charters while ending a "high stakes" testing system, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander says.
In the weekly Republican address
, the Tennessee lawmaker says a gridlocked Congress has gotten caught up in politics, stalling efforts to make the Bush-era law work for the 50 million children in 100,000 public schools across the nation.
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The House narrowly passed a Republican-led rewrite
earlier this week. Alexander, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, the panel's ranking member, are working on the Senate version
"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," he said.
"How well our children are learning is much more important than any political game."
Alexander explains original requirements in the now-expired federal law have "caused almost all of America's public schools to be classified as failing," and to avoid the "bizarre result," the 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."
That, in turn, triggered legitimate complaints about federal overreach and an explosion of high-stakes testing, requiring students to take 17 standardized exams over the course of their K-12 years, Alexander says.
He says the Senate bill would keep reading, math and science tests established in 2001, "but … 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."
And, he adds, the legislation would helps states improve early childhood education programs, evaluate teachers if they want and expand "high-quality charter schools," but "will not tell them how to do it."
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