Your Education Road Map

Politics K-12®

ESSA. Congress. State chiefs. School spending. Elections. Education Week reporters keep watch on education policy and politics in the nation’s capital and in the states. Read more from this blog.

Every Student Succeeds Act

Alexander: Federal Role on K-12 Will Be ‘Very Different’ Under ESSA

By Alyson Klein — December 17, 2015 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Attention U.S. Department of Education officials gearing up to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act: Get ready to raise your right hand and swear under oath. (You too, school district and state officials.)

Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the Senate education chairman, expects the federal role to be “very different” under ESSA, the most recent edition of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. That could help shape the direction of education policy for the next two decades, he said.

And he and his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., are already planning for for “at least three major” oversight hearings on implementation of ESSA next year, Alexander told me and CQ Roll Call’s Senate reporter extraordinaire, Niels Lesniewski, and Susan Swain of C-SPAN in an interview on “Newsmakers” that will air on Sunday morning.

Alexander expects the hearings will feature Education Department officials as well as school board members, teachers, and state schools chiefs to talk about how the implementation and regulation process is playing out. Lawmakers will want to know both how the department is doing and how states and districts are taking on greater responsibility, Alexander said.

It’s still unclear how limitations on secretarial authority in ESSA will play out in regulation, both politically and practically.

Civil rights groups say they want the department to use the authority it still has under the law to ensure a continued focus on educational equity. But Noelle Ellerson, of AASA, the School Administrators Association, is worried that the federal department will try to “regulate to the max” on ESSA, despite the law’s limitations.

When asked about the district advocates’ concerns, Alexander said he doesn’t think they have anything to worry about.

The department, he said, “need[s] to read the law carefully. And we expect them to do it and to follow the law, and there are specific prohibitions. We have an oversight responsibility. “

ESSA seeks to hand greater authority over accountability, school turnarounds, teacher evaluation, and more to states. So how does Alexander see the federal role in K-12 going forward?

“I think it will be very different,” he said. ESSA was able to attract such broad, bipartisan support in part because “everybody was really fed up with Washington telling 100,000 public schools so much about what to do and it was really creating a backlash on efforts to set higher standards, namely Common Core, and teacher evaluation.”

Going forward, he sees things playing out very differently, “What I believe is that when we take the handcuffs off, we’ll unleash a whole flood of innovation and ingenuity classroom by classroom, state by state that will benefit children, and I want to put the spotlight on that. "

Alexander said he got a congratulatory note from President Barack Obama for his role in getting the bill across the finish line. And he got a thank you call from former President George W. Bush, who signed the No Child Left Behind Act. All that bipartisan love means that states and school districts can roll up their sleeves and get going on implementation.

“We’ve got a law that will govern the federal role in K-12 education for 10 or 20 years so that teachers and governors have some stability in what’s coming from here toward them,” he said.

And Alexander thinks the law’s passage will put the debate over who is charge of standards to rest, after a huge backlash to the Obama administration’s role in championing the Common Core State Standards.

“That’s over,” he said. “Common core created a backlash. It was an issue in almost every Republican primary and the general elections too, because people perceived that President Obama was making them do it. Now the law prohibits any president, any secretary from telling Tennessee what its academic standards should be. So that’s over as an issue in a federal race. If you don’t like your academic standards, go talk to your governor. Go talk to your classroom teacher or your school board. Don’t bother your senator or congressman, because they don’t have anything to do with that.”

So now that Alexander, Murray and company have pulled off the nearly impossible—a long stalled rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act—what’s their next act?

Some health legislation, and of course, the Higher Education Act, Alexander said, with particular attention to the student loan issue.

“I’m concerned about overborrowing. One way to deal with that might be to have institutions [have] some role in a default of a student loan. Risk-sharing or skin in the game is an interesting concept. We have to be careful with it,” he added. He doesn’t want new rules on student aid to prevent students from applying to college.

And, even though there have been efforts to make the Free Application for Federal Student Aid simpler, Alexander thinks it can be streamlined even further, maybe even down to two questions. In fact, he brought a visual aid to illustrate his point. (See his shorter FAFSA form, and the long FAFSA in the picture at the top of this post.)

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Every Student Succeeds Act Republicans Tell Miguel Cardona His Plan for ESSA Waivers Seems to Violate the Law
The Every Student Succeeds Act doesn't permit the education secretary to seek certain data he's asking for, the two GOP lawmakers say.
4 min read
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, left, listens as Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, center, speaks during a press briefing at the White House on March 17, 2021.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, left, listens as Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, center, speaks during a press briefing at the White House on March 17, 2021.
Andrew Harnik/AP
Every Student Succeeds Act How Will ESSA Hold Up During COVID-19? Pandemic Tests the Law's Resilience
Lawmakers designed ESSA to limit mandates covering issues like how tests are used. Will that affect how well the law survives the pandemic?
6 min read
Every Student Succeeds Act Betsy DeVos Tells States Not to Expect Waivers From Annual Tests
The tests required by federal law are crucial to helping schools respond to the coronavirus pandemic and help vulnerable students, the education secretary said in a letter to chief state school officers.
3 min read
Every Student Succeeds Act Top DeVos Deputy: Our 'Instinct' Is to Not Give States Testing Waivers Next Year
"Accountability aside, we need to know where students are so we can address their needs," Assistant Secretary of Education Jim Blew said during remarks at the Education Writers Association's National Seminar.
3 min read