James Berglie/ZUMA Press/Newscom

James Berglie/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Senator Lamar Alexander (R–TN), ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, has just introduced a proposal to “fix” No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

While restoring excellence in education will require more than a fix to the bureaucratic law—states should be allowed to opt-out of NCLB entirely—Alexander’s Every Child Ready for College or Career Act would improve upon existing statute in several ways.

Notably, it would allow states to make their Title I dollars portable, giving children the option to use funds at any public school of choice. Title I portability is a good goal, but it should also include the option for children to use their share of funding at a private school of choice as well.

Other improvements to Title I include the elimination of “Adequate Yearly Progress,” the well-intentioned but inappropriate federal goal of universal student proficiency in math and English by the 2014–2015 school year. The proposal maintains the requirement for states to set challenging content and achievement standards (defining levels of content mastery at basic, proficient, and advanced) and retains the requirement for states to test students annually in grades 3–8 and again in high school in math and reading. And it still requires states to make that information available on public report cards.

The proposal also eliminates the Highly Qualified Teacher (HQT) provision, which placed significant emphasis on credentialing, despite little evidence that credentialing improves teacher effectiveness. Under existing statute, the HQT provision mandated that any teacher of a core academic subject be state-certified and hold a bachelor’s degree. In its place, school districts would be encouraged to develop teacher and principal evaluation systems that take student achievement outcomes into account.

The bill would also consolidate 62 programs authorized in NCLB into two block grants and provide states with increased flexibility over how they use those funds. Finally, a release issued by the committee noted the following details on the proposal:

  • No National School Board mandates. Makes clear that the U.S. Education Secretary’s waiver authority is led by state requests for flexibility, and is not an excuse to impose more federal mandates.
  • High standards and quality tests. States, not Washington, will define high standards and tests for students in reading, math and science.

For the past decade, conservatives in Congress have proposed an alternative to the bureaucratic NCLB. The Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success (A-PLUS) Act would allow states to completely opt out of NCLB and direct federal education funding to the priorities state and local leaders deem most important. Such flexibility would go a long way toward restoring state and local control over education and limiting federal intervention into education.

Conservatives should work to allow states to completely opt out of NCLB. A-PLUS would restore good constitutional governance in education when coupled with the elimination and consolidation of duplicative and ineffective federal education programs.

In the meantime, eliminating onerous provisions and allowing states to make their Title I dollars portable while consolidating programs are steps in the right direction.