U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander on Friday called for rolling back education policies put in place by the last two presidents in order to free states to devise their own.

The Tennessee Republican said during a panel discussion Friday at the National Governors Association conference that former President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind measures and President Barack Obama's Race to the Top program have combined to create a "national school board" that effectively dictates education policies.

He said the federal government should offer states more block grants to devise their own programs.

"Gov. George W. Bush tried to to be too much of a governor of the United States when it came to No Child Left Behind, and I think (Education Secretary) Arne (Duncan) is trying to be a school superintendent of the United States," Alexander said.

Alexander, himself a former U.S. secretary of education, retraced the development of national education standards to programs begun by the NGA when he was Tennessee's governor in the 1980s.

Many governors then supported tougher learning standards, work that eventually evolved into programs like No Child Left Behind and Common Core. But Alexander said a distinction should be made between programs governors developed voluntarily and the carrot-and-stick approaches under Bush and Obama, which have combined to limit governors' ability to modify programs.

"There's the perception — which is a fact — that Washington is in effect requiring states to adopt certain standards, certain performance levels, certain teacher evaluation systems," Alexander said. "People in Tennessee don't like that. All the problems that you hear about Common Core are related to the perception that Washington is making you do it."

Alexander said he doesn't object to broad-based standards like Common Core, he just doesn't think the federal government should impose them or link them to funding.