Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) gave the opening remarks during today’s Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee meeting, calling for bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
Alexander said that reform of NCLB, which was signed into law by President Bush in 2002, “is more than seven years overdue.”
“We’ve been working on it for more than 6 years,” Alexander said. “When we started, former Rep. George Miller [an original sponsor of NCLB] said, ‘Pass a lean bill to fix No Child Left Behind,’ and we identified a small number of problems.” Since then, Alexander said, “We’ve had 24 hearings, and in each of the last two Congresses we’ve reported bills out of committee.”
Six years! Congress has been unable — in six years — to reform a bad law that took a mere 350 days (or if you prefer, 8400 hours) to pass. No Child Left Behind was initially proposed by President George W. Bush on January 23, 2001, and coauthored by Representatives John Boehner (R-OH), George Miller (D-CA), and Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Judd Gregg (R-NH). The House passed the bill on May 23, 2001, and by June 14, 2001, it had won Senate approval. President Bush signed it into law on January 8, 2002.
Thirteen years later, Congress is still trying to repair the damage from the law that amounted to the largest federal intrusion into state education decisions in U.S. history. The problem is that lawmakers are trying to “fix” something that shouldn’t exist in the first place.
Alexander said in his opening remarks, “I understand that there can be short-term gains from Washington’s orders– but my experience is that long-term success can’t come that way. In fact, today Washington’s involvement, in effect mandating Common Core and teacher evaluation, is creating a backlash, making it harder for states to set higher standards and evaluate teaching.”
True enough, but Sen. Alexander’s proposed solutions will do little more than tinker around the edges of the massive federal law. The options he is proposing will either “give flexibility to the states to decide what to do on testing” or “maintain current law testing requirements.” Both options would continue to require annual reporting of student achievement to the federal government, continuing the carrot and stick approach to the federal government’s education funding scheme for the states.
Perhaps in another six years someone will suggest returning public education completely to its proper place — back to state and local control.
But perhaps that is wishful thinking, seeing how broken (and tone deaf) Washington is and how incapable and unwilling our lawmakers are of repealing an overbearing federal law once it becomes embedded in the government behemoth.