Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tn.) on Wednesday defended states’ rights on common core education standards when he voted against requiring states to obtain approval from the U.S. secretary of education on their education standards and tests.
Referring to the Democratic education bill, the subject of today’s committee meeting, Senator Alexander said, “If your proposal passed, and the state of Tennessee – which adopted the ‘common core’ standards before the secretary ever included it in Race to the Top or anything else, and even helped write the standards – then wanted to change its standards, it would have to amend its state plan, send it to the secretary, he’d peer-review it, and he could approve it or disapprove it. That’s my objection. That transfers authority to Washington from the states.
“And the history of the last ten years, in both Republican and Democratic administrations, has been of well-intended education secretaries and their assistants establishing, quote, ‘parameters,’ and saying to the governor of Tennessee, or wherever: ‘We know more than you do about standards and tests, and unless you agree with us, we won’t approve your plan.’ So, if I go back to Tennessee and someone says to me, ‘Did you vote to deny the right of Tennessee to change its common core standards without the approval of the secretary of education in Washington?,’ I’m going to say, No: I voted to give Tennessee the freedom to write its own standards and tests without having to ask Washington for permission.”
Senator Alexander then voted in favor of an amendment he cosponsored, offered by fellow committee member, Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.), to allow states, not Washington, to define high standards and tests for students in reading, math, and science, prohibiting the U.S. secretary of education from specifying, defining or prescribing the standards or measures that states or school districts use to establish, implement or improve standards and tests, as well as prohibit the secretary from requiring or coercing states or local districts to adopt common standards, tests, or accountability systems. The amendment was rejected by the committee on a party-line vote, 10-12.
Senator Alexander said “Common core” standards "are the result of a state-led effort, driven by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, and were meant to be a set of standards states could voluntarily adopt to improve their K-12 schools. The U.S. secretary of education has since required states to adopt the standards as a condition of obtaining a waiver from the No Child Left Behind requirements that states are increasingly finding to be cumbersome."
An official of the Department of Education disputed that statement, saying, "There is no such requirement from Secretary Duncan or the Department related to state requests for waivers from No Child Left Behind."
Earlier in Wednesday’s markup, Senator Alexander offered a proposal to fix No Child Left Behind, saying, “what we’re trying to do is free the states to help children in 100,000 schools meet their needs in individual ways…the real difference is whether we think the responsibility is here in Washington or at home—we believe it’s at home.” Senator Alexander, the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, offered the proposal as an alternative to the Democratic proposal.