Senators Struggle to Rewrite NCLB Law

Published February 10, 2015

After six years and 24 hearings, two prominent U.S. senators have agreed to start over in drafting a bipartisan bill to fix the Bush-era national education law No Child Left Behind. Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, introduced a draft discussion in January. Alexander and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) have worked tirelessly on shaping the reauthorization bill.

In early February, Alexander and Murray agreed to discard Alexander’s original draft discussion and start fresh, according to Neal McCluskey, associate director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom. Although the senators are making progress on the reauthorization bill, it would would still authorize far more federal involvement in education than is advisable, McCluskey said.

“Generally speaking, the NCLB rewrite is going in the right direction by reducing federal micromanagement of K-12 education,” said McCluskey. “But just because you take a correct turn doesn’t mean you’re where you need to go. There is no compelling evidence that NCLB, and federal intervention overall, has produced much good, while it is very clear it has cost substantial money and is unconstitutional. So the federal government should be removed from education except in Washington, DC, on federal lands, and in prohibiting state and local discrimination in providing education.”

Alexander’s original draft proposal would have allowed states to decide if they want to adopt Common Core standards. Alexander said during a speech the purpose of the draft proposal was to “restore freedom to parents, teachers, stares, governors, other school experts and local communities so that they can improve their local public schools.”

“Unfortunately, while the direction of the NCLB rewrite seems to be to curb federal overreach such as coercing states to adopt specific standards, or adequate yearly progress demands, it seems likely that whatever finally passes will maintain annual testing requirements using statewide standards, retain many categorical programs of highly dubious value, and keep a major federal presence,” McCluskey said. “That would be better than where we are right now, but not nearly good enough.” 

Determining Testing Requirements

Among issues Alexander and Murray may discuss is what type of testing, if any, should be required as part of the reauthorization bill. Michael Brickman, national policy director for the Fordham Institute, says some form of testing is necessary for tracking student development and informing parents and other concerned parties of their school’s success.

“Assessments exist now that didn’t exist before No Child Left Behind [was created]. There is a different landscape now. There is a greater understanding of what the assessments are capable of, what they can and cannot do,” he said.

Brickman points to New Hampshire as an example of a possible alternative to current testing practices. Schools such as Pittsfield Middle High School are experimenting with competency-based testing, with a focus on critical thinking, he said. Online courses are available to students who want to get ahead.

Restoring Local Control

Having previously served as the Secretary of Education, Alexander said he plans to take aim at the Department of Education’s authority. According to Alexander’s website, the Department of Education “has, in effect, become a national school board.” The site lists restoring state and local control of education and removing “national school board mandates” as objectives in reforming No Child Left Behind. Alexander’s office confirmed the first meeting for discussion of the bill’s draft proposal occurred on January 21, 2015.

We’ve agreed to move forward to develop a bipartisan chairman’s mark to fix No Child Left Behind,” Murray said in a press release. “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.

Diana-Ashley Krach ([email protected]) writes from Lake Worth, Florida.

Image by dcJohn.

Learn More:

A. Hysop, Fix, “Don’t Eliminate The Federal Role In Education,” US News, July 2013:

N. Hentoff, “Student-Centered Learning Holds Promise,” Harford Sentinel, January 2014:

Remarks of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, October 2014:

M. Troyan, “Lamar Alexander starts No Child Left Behind Rewrite,” The Tennesean, January 2015:

J. Resmovits, (2015, January), “No Child Left Behind Rewrite Should Limit Standardized Testing Duncan Says,” Huffington Post, January 2015: