Andy Sher, a reporter in Tennessee, thought he would trip up Lamar Alexander by saying that he supported national standards when he was U.S. Secretary of Education in 1991-92, and is thus hypocritical now when he criticizes Common Core.

Senator Alexander explained that he supported voluntary national standards then and now.

Senator Alexander is right. I was there. I administered the award of grants to professional groups of teachers and scholars to write voluntary national standards. We made awards to develop standards in science, history (U.S. and world), English, the arts, civics, economics, physical education, foreign languages, and geography. We made no awards to secret committees headed by entrepreneurs, only to professionals in the field.

As Senator Alexander says, we made clear that the standards were strictly voluntary. It was up to states to use them or not, to revise them as they saw fit. There were no tests of the standards. That was left to the states too.

The goal was to inspire states, not compel them. One thing I admired about Lamar. He never thought he had all the best ideas. He respected federalism.