Senator Alexander Aims to Shape Education Law Overhaul

Courtney Williams's picture
Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, a member of the Senate education committee and a former U.S. secretary of education, said that when the panel takes up the legislation this week, he will vote to send it to the full Senate.

But he said he will push to change the bill before it gets a Senate vote.

Certain provisions leave too much power in the hands of the federal government and would “transform the U.S. secretary of education into chairman of a national school board,” Alexander said.

Those provisions would require states to:

  • Identify the 5 percent of schools with the biggest achievement gaps between students in certain subgroups — such as minority students, English-language learners and students with disabilities — and other students.
  • Ensure that students are making “continuous improvement.”
  • Distribute effective teachers across schools in an “equitable” manner instead of clustering poor teachers in struggling schools.

Such provisions may be good ideas, Alexander said, but “they shouldn’t be defined by Washington or regulated by Washington.”

The overhaul bill was authored by Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, the education committee’s Democratic chairman, and Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, its top Republican.

Alexander said he supports many provisions in the bill, including those that would maintain the standardized tests No Child Left Behind established 10 years ago, end the proficiency targets that identified tens of thousands of schools as “failing,” and promote teacher evaluations based on student achievement.

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