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Alexander Aiming to Consider Legislation to Fix NCLB in Mid-April

Press release from U.S.  Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; March 9, 2015:

WASHINGTON, March 9 – U.S. Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) today released the following statement:

“During the last several weeks we have been working together to build the base for legislation to fix the problems with No Child Left Behind. We are making significant progress in our negotiations. We are aiming to consider and markup legislation to fix the law during the week of April 13th.”

Alexander, Murray Announce Bipartisan Effort to Fix ‘No Child Left Behind’

Press release from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; February 6, 2015:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 U.S. Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) today released the following statement:

“We’ve agreed to move forward to develop a bipartisan chairman’s mark to fix No Child Left Behind. Our staffs will begin working today with each other and with the staffs of other senators on the committee. We know our constituents expect us to fix this broken law and improve education for students, families, and communities across the country—and we expect to succeed.”

Alexander: Feds Should Encourage Local Education Innovation, Not Mandate It

Press release from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; February 3, 2015:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2015 – At a roundtable on fixing No Child Left Behind today, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate education committee, said the federal government ought to be an enabler and encourager, rather than a mandater, of state and local K-12 innovation.

Today’s roundtable marked the 27th hearing in the last six years about fixing No Child Left Behind or a related elementary and secondary education issue.

Below are excerpts of his prepared remarks:

This is the 27th hearing in the last six years about fixing No Child Left Behind or a related elementary and secondary education issue.

I hope we are not far from a conclusion—from moving from hearings and discussions to marking up a bill.

For today’s roundtable: How can we improve the federal law to encourage more states, districts, and schools to innovate? And when I say law, I should also draw attention to the regulations that have followed these laws.

For example, every state has to submit a plan to the federal government to receive its share of the $14.5 billion Title I program distributed to states for low-income children. That’s about $1,300 for every child who lives at or below the federal poverty line.

Those Title I applications are reviewed by the Department of Education, as well as by outside experts before you can spend a dime of that money.

In addition, 42 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are operating under waivers from the out-of-date and unworkable regulations in No Child Left Behind.

To receive those waivers, states have to submit waiver applications.

In Tennessee, that waiver application was 91 pages long with more than 170 pages of attachments. Since 2012, the state has had to submit eight different updates or amendments to the plan.

In addition to all this, the U.S. Department of Education spends another $9 -10 billion or so on about 90 different programs that are either authorized or funded under No Child Left Behind, with separate application and program requirements. These programs include Promise Neighborhoods and Investing in Innovation.

So are we spending this money in a way that makes it easier or harder for you to innovate and achieve better academic outcomes?

My own view is that the government ought to enable and encourage, not mandate, innovation. It can do this well.

For example, last year Congress overwhelmingly supported reauthorizing the Child Care and Development Block Grant program that gives grants to states that allow parents to receive a voucher for the child care of their choice so they can attend school or go to work.

Seven decades ago the G.I. Bill enabled World War II veterans to attend a college of their choice, helping them become the greatest generation. Today, half our college students have federal grants or loans that follow them to the colleges of their choice, enabling them to buy the surest ticket to a better life and job.

About 98 percent of the federal dollars that go to higher education follow the student to the school they attend.

In K-12, the only money that follows students to the school they attend is the school lunch program.

Now, I’ll turn to Ranking Member Murray for her opening statement and then we’ll get the conversation going.

Alexander Hold First Hearing on NCLB Reauthorization

Press release from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; January 21, 2015:

Holds First Hearing as Chairman on Federal Requirement that States Administer 17 Standardized Tests Each Year — “the Center of the Debate” on No Child Left Behind

WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 21 –U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today gaveled in his first hearing as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, calling for the committee to pass a bipartisan bill to Fix No Child Left Behind by the end of February.

“Almost everyone seems to agree that it’s time to fix No Child Left Behind—it’s more than 7 years overdue.  We’ve been working on it for more than 6 years, we’ve had 24 hearings, and in each of the last two Congresses we’ve reported bills out of committee. Twenty of 22 senators on this committee were members in the last congress, and 16 of these 22 were here in the previous congress.”

Regarding today’s hearing on testing and accountability, Alexander said: “At the center of the debate about how to fix No Child Left Behind is what to do about the federal requirement that states annually administer 17 standardized tests with high-stakes consequences. Educators call this an accountability system. Are there too many tests? Are they the right tests? Are the stakes for failing them too high? What should Washington, D.C. have to do with all this?”

Alexander’s full remarks are below:

Since this is the first hearing of the committee in this 114th Congress, I have some preliminary remarks.

This committee touches almost every American.

No committee is more ideologically diverse and none is more productive. In the last Congress, 25 bills passed out of this committee became laws.

That’s because we worked with Chairman Harkin on areas of agreement.

I look forward to working in the same way with Ranking Member Murray in this Congress. She is direct, well-respected, she cares about people and is results-oriented.

We are going to have an open process, which means we’re going to have a full opportunity for discussion and for amendments.  Not just in the committee, but on the floor. In the last two congresses, we reported a bill, but it didn’t make it to the floor.

This congress, we hope to  have a bipartisan bill coming out of committee—but even if we don’t, the bill will go to the floor and it will have to get 60 votes on the floor, 60 votes to go to conference, 60 votes to get out of conference, and then the president will have his say. We hope to get his signature and get a result.

Next, the schedule:

Let me start with some unfinished business:

Fixing NCLB: This is way overdue, it expired more than 7 years ago.   We posted a working draft on the website last week, already feedback is coming in—not just from Congress but from around the country.   We have several more weeks of hearings and meetings.  We hope to have a bill ready for floor by end of February.   The House expects to have its bill on the floor by the end of February.

Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: This is, for me, about deregulating higher education making rules simpler and more effective.  Also, finishing the work we did on student loans in the last congress.   Our first hearing on the deregulation task force formed by Senators Mikulski, Burr, and Bennet and me is on Tuesday, February 24.

As rapidly and responsibly as we can, we want to repair the damage of Obamacare and provide more Americans with health insurance that fits their budgets. Our first hearing is tomorrow on the 30to 40 hour workweek–the bill introduced by Senators Collins, Donnelly, Murkowski and Manchin. We will report our opinions to the Finance committee.

Then, some new business:

Let’s call it 21st Century Cures—that’s what the House calls it, as it finishes its work this spring. The president is also interested. What we’re talking about is getting to market more rapidly, while still safe, medicines, treatments and medical devices. There is a lot of interest in this and we’ll start staff working groups soon.

There will be more in labor, pensions, education, health but those are major priorities and that is how we start.

The president has also made major proposals on early childhood education and community college. These are certainly relevant to K-12, but we’ve always dealt with them separately. It’s difficult for me to see how we make these issues part of this reauthorization.

Now to today’s hearing: Last week Secretary Duncan called for law to be fixed.

Almost everyone seems to agree with that—it’s more than 7 years overdue.

We’ve been working on it for more than 6 years. When we started, former Rep. George Miller said, Pass a lean bill to fix No Child Left Behind, and we identified a small number of problems.

Since then, we’ve had 24 hearings, and in each of the last two Congresses we’ve reported bills out of committee.

Senators should know issues by now, 20 of 22 were here in the last congress, 16 of 22 were here in the previous congress.

One reason it needs to be fixed is that NCLB has become unworkable.

Under its original provisions, almost all of America’s 100,000 public schools would be labeled a “failing school.”

To avoid this unintended result, the U. S. Secretary of Education has granted waivers from the law’s provisions to 43 states—including Washington, which has since had its waiver revoked—as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

This has created a second unintended result, at least unintended by Congress, which stated in law that no federal official should “exercise any direction, supervision or control over curriculum, program or instruction or administration of any educational institution.”

Nevertheless, in exchange for the waivers, the Secretary has told states what their academic standards should be, how states should measure the progress of students toward those standards, what constitutes failure for schools and what the consequences of failure are, how to fix low-performing schools, and how to evaluate teachers.  The Department has become, in effect, a national school board.   Or, as one teacher told me, it has become a national Human Resources Department for 100,000 public schools.

At the center of the debate about how to fix No Child Left Behind is what to do about the federal requirement that states annually administer 17 standardized tests with high-stakes consequences.  Educators call this an accountability system.

Are there too many tests? Are they the right tests?     Are the stakes for failing them too high? What should Washington, D.C. have to do with all this?

Many states and school districts require schools to administer additional tests.

This is called a hearing for a reason. I have come to listen.

The Chairman’s staff discussion draft I have circulated includes two options on testing:

  • Option 1 gives flexibility to the states to decide what to do on testing
  • Option 2 maintains current law testing requirements

Both options would continue to require annual reporting of student achievement, disaggregated by subgroups of children.

Washington sometimes forgets—but governors never do—that the federal government has limited involvement in elementary and secondary education, contributing only 10 percent of the money that public schools receive.

For 30 years the real action has been in the states.

I have seen this first hand.

I was Governor in 1983 when President Reagan’s Education Secretary, Terrell Bell, issued a report called:  “A Nation at Risk,” which said that: “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

The next year Tennessee became the first state to pay teachers more for teaching well.

In 1985 and 1986, every Governor spent an entire year focused on improving schools ?? the first time in the history of the National Governors Association that it happened.  I was chairman of the association that year and the Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, was the vice chairman.

In 1989, the first President Bush held a national meeting of Governors in Charlottesville, Virginia, and established national education goals.

Then in 1991?1992, President Bush announced America 2000 to help move the nation voluntarily  toward those goals, state by state, community by community.  I was the Education Secretary at that time.

Since then states have worked together voluntarily to develop academic standards, develop tests, to create their own accountability systems, find fair  ways to evaluate  teacher performance—and then adopted those that fit their states.

I know members of this committee must be tired of hearing me talk until I am blue in the face about a “national school board.”  I know it is tempting to try to fix classrooms from Washington. I also hear from governors and school superintendents who say that if “Washington doesn’t make us do it, the teachers unions and opponents from the right will make it impossible to have higher standards and better teachers.”

And 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.

As one former Democratic governor told me recently, “We were doing pretty well until Washington got involved. If they will get out of the way we can get back on track.”

So rather than turn blue in the face one more time about the national school board let me conclude with the remarks of Carol Burris, New York’s High School principal of the Year.   She responded last week to our committee working draft this way:

. . .I ask that your committee remember that the American public school system was built on the belief that local  communities cherish their children and have the right and responsibility, within sensible limits, to determine how they are schooled.

While the federal government has a very special role in ensuring that our students do not experience discrimination based on who they are or what their disability might be, Congress is not a National School Board.

Although our locally elected school boards may not be perfect, they represent one of the purest forms of democracy that we have. Bad ideas in the small do damage in the small and are easily corrected.   Bad ideas at the federal level result in massive failure and are harder to fix.

Please understand that I do not dismiss the need to hold schools accountable.   The use and disaggregation of data has been an important tool that I use regularly as a principal to improve my own school.  However, the unintended, negative consequences that have arisen from mandated, annual testing and its high stakes uses have proven testing not only to be an ineffective tool, but a destructive one as well.

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Alexander Announces Plan for No Child Left Behind Reauthorization

Press release from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; January 14, 2015:

Releases Staff Discussion Draft and Announces Committee Hearing on Testing and Accountability

WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 13 –U.S. Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today announced on the Senate floor his plans to fix the No Child Left Behind law, wrapping up six years of committee work and sending a bill to the Senate floor within the first few weeks of 2015. [Click HERE for video of Alexander’s full remarks today.]

“No Child Left Behind has become unworkable—and fixing this law, which expired over seven years ago, will be the first item on the agenda for the Senate education committee,” Alexander said. “I look forward to input from all sides on this proposal as we move forward with a bipartisan process that will keep the best portions of the law, while restoring responsibility to states and local communities and ensuring that all 50 million students in our nation’s 100,000 public schools can succeed.”

Alexander also released a staff discussion draft of his bill to fix the problems with No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to begin discussion with his Senate colleagues, and also to solicit public feedback on the proposed draft. [Click HERE to access the discussion draft.]

Alexander announced the committee’s first hearing this year on No Child Left Behind, and said he would hold additional hearings after conferring with Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) He also announced beginning this week bipartisan meetings in the Senate education committee to discuss the chairman’s discussion draft, consider changes and improvements, identify areas of agreement, and discuss options to proceed.

Chairman Alexander asked for input from the public on his staff discussion draft by Monday, February 2 at: FixingNCLB@help.senate.gov. Comments will be shared with all members of the Senate HELP Committee.

The first hearing will be scheduled as follows:

  • Wednesday, January 21 – “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability”

State Names 250 Schools to List of Priority, Focus Schools

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Education; August 13, 2012

NASHVILLE — In accordance with Tennessee’s new accountability system, designed through the state’s waiver from No Child Left Behind, the Tennessee Department of Education today released a list of Priority Schools and Focus Schools to the State Board of Education.

Priority Schools are the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in Tennessee, in terms of academic achievement. These 83 schools are eligible for inclusion in the Achievement School District or in district Innovation Zones. They may also plan and adopt turnaround models for school improvement.

Focus Schools are the 10 percent of schools in the state with the largest achievement gaps between groups of students, such as racial and ethnic groups, students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, students with disabilities and English-language learners. The department has named 167 schools as Focus Schools.

Schools on the Focus list are not necessarily there because of low achievement. In fact, many showed excellent growth last year. Rather, the Focus designation provides districts the opportunity to look closely at particular subgroups of students who may be underperforming and to provide specific support and intervention.

Focus Schools will be eligible to apply for grants aimed at dramatically closing the achievement gap. Schools not awarded a competitive grant will be provided state resources to close their achievement gaps.

Tennessee strives for all students to improve every year, with students who are furthest behind improve at a faster rate. By naming Priority Schools and Focus Schools, the department of education enables districts to assist these schools and create improvement plans tailored to the areas they need to grow. Districts may also work with the state’s Centers for Regional Excellence (COREs) to share effective strategies for raising achievement levels and closing gaps.

“We want all schools to be intentional about improving student achievement, especially for students who are the furthest behind, and this year, we have been able to offer more nuanced measures of school accountability,” said Kevin Huffman, education commissioner. “We believe these measures will lead many schools to create effective intervention programs and ultimately address their needs for improvement.”

The Priority and Focus Schools lists, as well as an information sheet explaining the state’s new accountability system, can be found here. Schools identified as Priority and Focus will retain the designation and varied support for three years, from 2012-13 through 2014-15. The department will announce Reward Schools, the top-performing schools in the state, in the coming weeks.

Earlier in the summer, Tennessee named its 21 Exemplary Districts, which successfully raised student achievement and narrowed gaps under the new system. District accountability information can be found here.

For more information, contact Kelli Gauthier at (615) 532-7817 or Kelli.Gauthier@tn.gov.

Senate Votes to Replace ‘No Child Left Behind’ Provisions

Tennessee Senators overwhelmingly approved legislation that officially gives No Child Left Behind the boot and gives teachers more leverage to banish unruly students to the principal’s office.

Sen. Delores Gresham, the chamber’s Education Committee chairwoman, sponsored both measures — which passed with little debate — saying the proposals support teachers.

“In other words, Mr. Speaker, one size does not fit all,” Gresham said on the Senate floor moments before the chamber voted 32-0, with one member abstaining, to replace student performance standards under No Child Left Behind. The new guidelines would divide schools into “priority,” “focus” and “reward” categories.

SB2208 officially embraces a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education exempting Tennessee and nine other states from NCLB standards she called “unreasonably high proficiency targets.”

The new guidelines are “ambitious but achievable goals,” said the Somerville Republican. The provisions would reward schools meeting achievement goals and closing the gap between at-risk students and their peers by giving them more financial flexibility and ability to maintain school improvement plans.

The goals were born out of the Legislature’s 2010 special session on education reforms which called for a system for addressing struggling schools and a new way for measuring student growth. Those changes were used to lure education officials in Washington to award Tennessee a $501 million grant called Race to the Top.

Districts not meeting both the achievement goals and closing the achievement gap would either be placed on a list of struggling districts, be required to adopt a plan of action or develop an analysis on how to meet those measurements.

Passage of the bill came the same day as Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman announced a $5 million boost to three schools that will be focusing on science, technology, engineering and math — which also fall under the state’s Race to the Top education reforms.

The measure waits a vote in the House Education Committee Tuesday.

Lawmakers also voted overwhelmingly, 31-0, to ban principals from returning disorderly students back to the classroom without the teachers’ permission.

“You would think that would be common sense.” Gresham told TNReport.

She said she heard several stories of school officials sending students back to class after a teacher removed them from the room.

To address that, the SB3122 requires all school districts to set policies for how principals deal with students exiled from class. At minimum, principals could not send students back to their teachers that same day without the instructors’ permission.

After three documented removals, the principals can’t send the students back to class at all without the teachers’ OK. If the teacher says no, the director of schools would be required to step in and decide whether the student should be returned to that teacher. The measure is up for a vote in the House Education subcommittee Wednesday.

”Some of those stories are anecdotal, but when they come in numbers and come from across the state, it becomes more than anecdotal,” Gresham said.

Governor’s Class-Size Initiative in Limbo

Standing before a roomful of Tennessee newspaper publishers and editors Thursday, Gov. Bill Haslam declared he still believes school officials need more legal latitude to adjust student-to-teacher ratios to suit their particular circumstances.

But he acknowledged he’s facing an uphill fight to convince key political constituencies that in some cases a larger classroom size is not necessarily a surefire recipe for lowering student learning potential.

The issue has quickly become the most contentious of the governor’s 2012 legislative agenda. It is panicking teachers, has prompted Democrats to launch a petition drive to fight the plan and is worrying fellow Republicans that public support for the second-year governor’s latest education reform idea may be lacking.

“We want to get this right and our object is not just to have larger class sizes in Tennessee. We know that’s not the right idea,” Haslam told reporters after addressing the Tennessee Press Association’s Winter Convention at the DoubleTree Hotel in Nashville.

But what is the right idea, he said, is creating an environment in which Tennessee’s best teachers can earn higher salaries. That, Haslam maintained, is the ultimate objective behind his legislative initiative.

The governor spent almost the entirety of his speech before the newspaperwomen and men focusing on the subject of education. It is an issue, Haslam pointed out, that many Volunteer State governors before him declared was their number-one priority — and yet often achieved little in the way of demonstrable improvement by the end of their tenures in office.

The state is still awaiting the outcome of a slew of education reforms adopted within the last two years, beginning with changes to teacher evaluations initiated with Gov. Phil Bredesen’s application to the federal First to the Top grant contest. Last year lawmakers added to the list eliminating collective bargaining on teacher labor contracts, expanding access to charter schools and raising the bar needed to earn teacher tenure.

“The object is always to get to the right idea,” Haslam said. As to how Tennessee should ultimately facilitate and usher in a merit-pay system for teachers, Haslam said he welcomes a forthright public discussion “to make sure we get to the right idea.”

Haslam admitted his plan, SB2210, has been met with “mixed reviews,” even joking that his phrasing is “the charitable way” to couch the criticism he’s received.

Even one of the governor’s principle and most powerful political allies acknowledges that any talk of potentially inflating student-to-teacher counts in Tennessee classrooms is going to be met with deep skepticism among professional public educators.

“There is some resistance, there’s no doubt about it,” said Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell, who herself spoke to a breakout session of the TPA conference. “Most teachers hold very sacred the ability to have have small classroom sizes. I think what the governor’s intent was was indeed flexibility so that we would allow locals the ability to have a classroom of only five students but have a physics teacher in front of them.”

As written, his plan would allow administrators to add students to a classroom without having to hire extra staff thus freeing up dollars to better pay teachers in hard to teach subjects and challenging schools. For now, he said the bill is on hold in the Legislature while he reviews the possible changes.

“In general, I think he wants to do the right thing,” said Al Mance, Executive Director of the Tennessee Education Association which has met twice with the governor’s administration about the legislation. “I think that when they came up with the proposal, there were questions that they hadn’t considered… I think they really thought that what they were doing would not damage anyone. The fact is that it will.”

The Tennessee Democratic Party launched an online petition Wednesday rallying against the governor’s current proposal.

“Parents and teachers know first hand what difference small class sizes make in improving student learning,” said party Chairman Chip Forrester in a press release. “It’s common sense; the fewer students in a classroom, the more time a teacher can spend with each individual student. If our goal is to improve student learning, Governor Haslam’s plan to increase class sizes is the wrong way to go. It’s a bad idea that shortchanges our kids’ future.”

Haslam’s wouldn’t say what kinds of changes he is willing to make to the legislation, but when asked about handing money to schools to better pay teachers in challenging subjects and schools, he said, “you’re talking a really really large number.”

The governor’s comments came less than an hour before President Barack Obama officially announced that the Volunteer State is one of ten the feds have agreed to exempt from much of the No Child Left Behind law, freeing up schools from what Haslam called “unrealistic” standards which did not recognize school improvements.

The NCLB waiver allows the state to set it’s own rules on judging how schools progress in meeting education standards.

VIDEO: Haslam Discusses No Child Left Behind Waiver for TN

U.S. Department of Education approved Tennessee’s request to waive certain portions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act today. Here’s what Gov. Bill Haslam had to say about what that means for education in the Volunteer State.

 

More ‘Report Card’ Info Available from State Education Department

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, Dec 02, 2011:

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Education today released complete results from the 2011 state Report Card. Today’s release includes district- and school-level data on a variety of indicators, from student achievement and growth on standardized tests, to attendance and behavior.

This is the department’s fourth major data release this year, following the summer release of statewide Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program and Adequate Yearly Progress results, as well as the recent list of Reward, Priority and Focus schools slated for state support under the state’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act Flexibility request.

This year’s data release timeline aligns with the department’s strategic plan to get as much information as possible to parents and families, to help them be active participants in their children’s education, Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said.

“Data-driven education reform only works when numbers and information can be used to make informed, timely decisions,” Huffman said. “We look forward to continuing to get data and information to the public in the most useful format possible.”

Tennessee submitted its flexibility request — a waiver from certain portions of the No Child Left Behind Act — on Nov. 14. Part of the state’s application included a proposed new accountability model and governance structure for the state’s schools and districts. If the U.S. Department of Education approves the waiver, the current accountability would be replaced with the department’s proposal, which can be found at: http://tn.gov/education/doc/ESEA_Flexibility_Request.pdf.

To see results from the 2011 Tennessee Report Card, visit: http://edu.reportcard.state.tn.us/pls/apex/f?p=200:1:7867592151504984.