By Sally Absher

No Child Left Behind, that is.

Tennessee’s senior senator Lamar Alexander is making quite a name for himself these days on the topic of education. Alexander, the new chairman of the Senate’s education committee, released a draft bill last month reauthorizing NCLB, which according to the Washington Post, “implies that Obama’s Education Department has overstepped its authority.”

Interesting that Alexander would talk about the federal overreach in education, when back in 1989, he gave a speech to the Governor’s Conference promoting the “New American School” which would “serve children from age 3 months to age 18.” Who is overstepping their authority?

Alexander’s bill (S. 1101), Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), is also known as the “Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015.” In typical Washington D.C. fashion, the draft bill is 387 pages long, and is sure to get longer.

It is also interesting that the top lobbyists for S.1101 are Alliance for Excellent Education, National Alliance for Charter Schools, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, NEA, AFT and Amazon. Strange bedfellows in Washington these days.

Speaking on the Senate floor last month, Alexander said, “The department has become, in effect, a national school board,” an analogy he used frequently in his senate campaign last year.

Some critics of Common Core are hopeful that this bill will abolish Common Core as it gives states more freedom to choose their own academic standards. But do not be misled by the rhetoric.

Karen Bracken, head of Tennessee Against Common Core, points out that “If Alexander really wanted to fix this mess he would repeal NCLB and not reauthorize a law that was a failure the day it was written… This bill will not repeal Common Core. This bill will not fix anything, but it will expand charter schools and that makes [education privatization advocates] Gates, Walton, and Broad very happy”

Alexander is also a huge supporter of Teach for America, and school choice/vouchers.

Last year, Alexander rolled out a sweeping voucher bill. According to a WaPo article from March 4, 2014, “Sen. Lamar Alexander…said low-income students would be better served if instead of funding public schools, the government sent that money to their families to spend at public or private schools.”

While Alexander touts the bill’s intent to return decision-making about curriculum and assessment back into state and local hands, the devil is in the details.  The bill has gotten much attention in print and online media, including a piece in last week’s Knoxville Focus written by Alexander himself.

Education historian and activist Diane Ravitch, former advisor to Lamar Alexander when he was head of the Education Department under President George H.W. Bush, penned an open letter to Alexander about the reauthorization of NCLB.

Ravitch wrote, “… There is certainly an important role for the federal government in assuring equality of educational opportunity and informing the American people about the progress of education. But the federal role today is taking on responsibilities that belong to states and local districts. The key mechanism for that takeover is annual testing, the results of which are used to dictate other policies of dubious legality and validity, like evaluating teachers and even colleges of education by student test scores.”

But like most of the coverage of Alexander’s bill, Ravitch’s letter concentrates on testing. Anita Hoge, lecturer, educational researcher, and parent, has studied Alexander’s nearly 400 page bill in detail ( link and link).. She says that only about 14 pages of the bill discuss the options for testing, which is the main focus of the current hearings and testimony.

Hoge points out, “The teacher accountability, and evaluations of teachers based on how their students perform on state tests, is still in the bill.” And there’s a whole lot more buried in those 387 pages, much of it related to ESEA and Title I.

She explains, “Lamar Alexander proposes so-called ‘Choice’ funding to follow the child to all public, charter, and private schools. How will Federal ‘Choice’ be funded?  Title I. This will enable these federal choice funds to follow the child right into any private and religious school — with Common Core and Title I mandates attached to him/her.”

She adds, “What the above translates into and what it will bring about: The dismantling of our public neighborhood schools, causing them to crash under the weight of ‘choice’ and Common Core. These purposely financially-broken public schools will be taken over by a charter school authorizer” (such as was passed by the Tennessee legislature last session).

Alexander’s bill contains pages and pages devoted to charter school expansion. Hoge points out that charter schools lead to the destruction of local neighborhood schools, and the re-direction of tax dollars to an unelected, for profit charter school operation. Charter schools do not have an elected school board, but they operate on public funds. Parents and taxpayers don’t have a voice about how their taxes are spent.

The public education system, which has been in decline since the U.S. Department of Education was created by President Carter in 1979, is being destroyed by NCLB. Congress doesn’t need to fix it, they need to repeal it. And then start the dismantling of the Department of Education. Ravitch is right about the responsibility of education belonging to the states and local districts.