Lamar Alexander’s Senate Floor Speech Against Federally Mandated Testing Opt-Out

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Senator Lamar Alexander, formerly both the Governor of Tennessee and the United States Secretary of Education, gave a compelling floor speech yesterday against a federally mandated opt-out. Let’s listen in from the Congressional Record:

The proposal from the Senator from Utah is a Washington mandate that says to States that Washington will decide that. So our proposal is local control. His, the way I hear it, is Washington knows best. That is like Common Core. The proposal that is on the floor for a vote tomorrow says Washington may not mandate to any of our States what its academic standards should be. That ends the Washington Common Core mandate. In the same bill, why should we put a Washington mandate about whether you can opt out of your test?

Why don’t we allow States to make that decision?

So I say to my Republican friends, especially, do we believe in local control only when we agree with the local policy? I don’t think so. The great economist Art Laffer likes to say: States have a right to be right, and States have a right to be wrong.

I have a different view. I am going to vote no on the amendment of the Senator from Utah because it takes away from States the right to decide whether and how to use the Federal tests and whether parents may opt out.

Why is that a problem? Well, in the following States, States use these tests as part of their State accountability system. They don’t have to do it, but they do use it. I am told by the State of Tennessee that if we were to adopt the Utah proposal Federal mandate, that the State would have to come up with a different accountability system.

So which States on their own have decided to use these tests as part of their State accountability system? Florida has, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas.

So I urge my colleagues to vote for the Alexander-Murray proposal because it reverses the trend toward a national school board and specifically allows States to decide whether States may opt out of tests while the amendment goes the other way. It is a Washington mandate that takes away from States the ability to make that decision.

Result- amendment voted down 32-64. #BOOOOOOOOOOOOM!


8 Responses to Lamar Alexander’s Senate Floor Speech Against Federally Mandated Testing Opt-Out

  1. jasonbedrick says:

    That’s some pretty clever rhetorical jiu-jitsu, but it’s absurd when you think about it for just a minute. The opt-out amendment would have empowered *parents*, who are much more “local” than state government. Pretending that the anti-opt-out side really cares more about “local control” then is nonsense on stilts.

    Leaving aside the question of whether an opt-out provision is a good or bad idea, if “local control” is your primary concern, then clearly you should side with the opt-out crowd. The “federal school board” comment in this context is exactly backwards — especially since it’s federal coercion that’s holding what left of the Common Core regime together.

    • Greg Forster says:

      Nothing absurd about it. A federal law creating opt-out rights for parents would increase the power of parents vis-a-vis schools, but it would also increase federal power vis-à-vis states. This does not seem to me to be a very difficult point to grasp. You may think the tradeoff is worth it, but there is nothing “absurd” in thinking (as I do) that it isn’t worth it.

    • Greg Forster says:

      Follow-up point: It is possible to remove federal coercion for Common Core without creating federal coercion that undermines all tests without exception.

      • matthewladner says:

        I agree with Greg. The 9th amendment (sadly) has proven difficult to make use of, and the 10th amendment leaves things to the states or to the people, but fails to instruct us as to what goes where. So if one takes the view that states have the right to run an academic accountability system, then there can’t be any greater example of federal overreach than to have the feds mandate making the data next to worthless for purposes of comparison.

  2. jasonbedrick says:

    Anyway, if Sen. Alexander is truly motivated by a passion for local control and states rights, then presumably tomorrow he will vote in favor of Sen. Cruz’s amendment #2180, which eliminates any federal testing requirements and leaves the decision with the states.

    According to Cruz’s press release, here’s what the amendment does:

    · Inserts a clause stating that the Secretary cannot require a State to include an assessment system or an accountability system in its State Plan as a condition for approval or to access federal funding.

    · Strikes Section 1111(b)(2) of Title I, eliminating a federally defined assessment system and replaces with, “A State may include in the State plan a description of, and may implement, a set of high-quality statewide academic assessments”

    · Strikes Section 1111(b)(3) of Title I, eliminating a federally defined accountability system and replaces with, “A State may include in the State plan a description of, and may implement, an accountability system”

    · Strikes Section 1114 of Title I, which includes additional mandates instructing specific state intervention methods. These interventions reference Section 1111(b)(3) accountability systems and the assessments they are based upon.

    · Eliminates Part B of Title I, which includes a grant program for the previously mandated Academic Assessments.

    • Greg Forster says:

      It will indeed be interesting to see how “Lamar!” votes on that amendment.

      • matthewladner says:

        Cruz amendment makes a lot more sense than the Lee amendment. Alexander is clearly seeking a signature rather than a veto though so let’s see what happens.

  3. pdexiii says:

    I have no issues with the Feds implementing the NAEP tests as they do, on the Feds dime (still our dime, but nothing else required for us except the students take the test).
    We still need that transparency to give parents the data they need to make choices for their children. If a child scores ‘Proficient’ in CA but takes the NAEP and scores ‘Basic’ or less parents need to know that.

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