Will Republicans Carry Obama’s Water on Common Core?

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) (photo credit: AMSF2011 via Flickr, CC BY 2.0)
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) (photo credit: AMSF2011 via Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

The most far-reaching federal education law—No Child Left Behind (NCLB)—has been up for reauthorization for eight years.  Now, with the Obama Administration waning, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is in a rush to get the President a bill that he will sign.

Earlier this year, when the first version of his bill did not garner the necessary support, Sen. Alexander went back to the drawing board.  And he reached across the aisle to Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) to help re-draft the bill.

There’s a lot wrong with his bill.

Overall, the bill retains the master-servant relationship by which the federal government lords over the states, local communities, and parents.  It requires states to submit education plans to the Feds and gives the Feds enormous authority to approve them. It retains federal testing mandates that tell the states when, and in what subjects, children must take standardized tests.  It does so even though those tests exist primarily for bureaucratic reporting, are extremely expensive, have virtually no instructional value, and deprive children of enormous learning time.  And, to slap down the rising tidal wave of parents withdrawing their children from such testing, the bill requires states to demonstrate how they will ensure that 95 percent of children actually take the test.

The bill maintains NCLB’s requirement that the state standardized tests produce not just test scores but “individual student interpretive, descriptive, and diagnostic reports.” Unlike NCLB, Sen. Alexander’s bill requires assessment on behavioral/skills-based standards rather than truly academic standards. The data produced under this language could resemble a psychological profile of the student.

And Alexander’s bill does nothing to protect children and families from such intrusive testing and data collection.  In fact, it does quite the opposite.  It removes protection against socio-emotional profiling in the statewide assessments (eliminating NCLB’s prohibition against including assessment items that “evaluate or assess personal or family beliefs and attitudes”).  Under the bill, the Feds will be able to demand information from any “existing State or local data source.”  Nor does the bill do anything to stop the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—a federal test administered to a sampling of children across the country—from implementing its plan to probe children’s  “mindsets,” “grit,” or other psychological traits.

The bill has some language protecting the states from some federal intrusion.  But that language is window dressing.  It replicates, in large part, existing language (which was ineffective in preventing the Feds from pushing Common Core onto the states).  Like the existing language, the protections are toothless.  They fail to provide the states and the people with remedies and enforcement mechanisms—leaving Washington as the interpreter, judge, and jury of its own actions.

Next week, Senate leadership plans on holding a vote on the bill.   The anecdotal evidence is that senators have very little understanding of the 800-page bill and have relied on the presentations of Sen. Alexander’s staff.  It seems that no senator has had a town hall meeting on the bill—perhaps because the senators themselves are still reading the behemoth.

Will senators demand an opportunity to read, and understand, the bill?  Will they hold town hall meetings?  Will they demand the bill be re-structured to end federal intrusion?  Will they insist that prohibitions intended to protect the states and parents have remedies and enforcement mechanisms?

And what about the senators who are presidential candidates?  What will they do?

For more information, see our memo on Sen. Alexander’s bill here.

Emmett McGroarty is the executive director of APIA Education.