Lamar Alexander’s ESSA: Room for John King, But Not Opting Out
On February 22, 2016, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) was among a number of legislators participating in the National Governors Association (NGA) Winter Conference.
At minute 1:05:30, Alexander reflects on “fixing No Child Left Behind” and advises governors, “You don’t put people in a corner.”
What came immediately to my mind was the corner that Alexander’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) puts both parents and governors in by its 95 percent testing requirement.
I call it “Alexander’s ESSA” because he is the visible legislator steering that ship– and the person who has already declared that he will see to having Obama’s pick for US secretary of education confirmed. As Daarel Burnette II of EdWeek reports:
[Alexander’s] speech [to NGA] at the JW Marriott came just days before the Senate education committee is to hold a confirmation hearing for acting U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., who President Barack Obama has nominated to be secretary. “I urged him to appoint somebody and I told him I’d make sure he was confirmed,” Alexander said.
According to ESSA, each year, 95 percent of all enrolled students in grades 3 through 8 and one grade in high school in public schools in each state receiving Title I funds are required to complete nationally recognized standardized tests, and states are required to demonstrate how they will include the results of the testing in their accountability plans.
There is some nonsense language about states’ not blaming ESSA for their opt out policies, but the truth is that via ESSA, the federal government is intending that there be no opting out of the federally mandated testing associated with Title I.
In other words, when it comes to opting out of federally mandated testing, Alexander’s ESSA puts governors and parents in the corner.
If states do not meet the federally required 95 percent of students tested, then it will be left up to the US secretary of education to “help” states come up with a plan to meet the 95 percent.
That sure sounds like a corner to me.
Alexander might consider No Child Left Behind to be “fixed,” but the reality is that ESSA is a federal effort to gloss over a 2016 reality among the governed, and that is a growing resistance to federally mandated standardized testing.
In the days preceding the NGA 2016 winter meeting, Alexander spoke to governors about “adhering to the principals of federalism” via the “numerous and infinite power” given states under ESSA.
He apparently did not speak to the opt-out choke hold on states via ESSA.
It seems that what Alexander was trying to do was give a pep talk to governors to not let the federal government take hold of state standards, tests, and accountability systems.
Alexander’s talk would have been better timed had it occurred in 2009. However, at that time, it was all the NGA rage to sign onto a Common Core that did not yet exist– and for NGA to offer a pep talk of not giving in when the public resisted those common standards and assessments and grading teachers using student test scores.
It is no secret that since 2013, it has become Republican vogue to shun the very Common Core that NGA officially co-owns with the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). (Even Jeb! finally came around in August 2015 when he declared Common Core as “poisonous.”)
Even as Alexander tries to steer governors away from “federal takeover” of standards, he refuses to acknowledge that Common Core is a battle now in the shadows of a looming opt-out, one fed by his ESSA’s rigid 95-percent-testing requirement and fake “freedom” for governors to formulate state opt out policy divorced from that ESSA federal testing mandate.