Sunday, February 07, 2010

Obama wants to raise the bar of No Child Left Behind law

By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY
February 2, 2010

The Obama administration will seek Congress' help in overhauling a key part of the 8-year-old No Child Left Behind education law.

The proposal would rework the way the federal government judges public schools, scrapping a requirement that states increase the percentage of students meeting standards each year, though it allows states to set their own standards.

In its place, President Obama wants lawmakers to consider rewarding states that show progress toward internationally benchmarked, nationally developed standards.

The administration detailed the

proposal on Monday as Obama released his 2011 budget. It comes as Obama seeks to make his mark on the next version of No Child Left Behind, the nickname for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Obama and Arne Duncan, his Education secretary, have long said No Child Left Behind doesn't hold states to high enough standards. On a conference call Monday, Duncan told reporters the law "often does little to reward progress" of schools that help students achieve — and lets states set standards that are too low to allow U.S. children to get into college or compete internationally.

"In too many states, those standards are too low, and the existing law doesn't provide states with incentives to raise their standards," Duncan said. "In fact, quite the opposite is true."

Though discussions with lawmakers continue, Duncan made it clear Monday he's looking for a new vision of academic standards. He said the law, which requires that 100% of students become proficient in math and reading by 2014, allows states to water down standards in what he called a "race to the bottom."

The law "did a great job of exposing the achievement gap and demanding accountability, but it had many other shortcomings," he said.

Duncan stressed that he's seeking Congress' help. "We've made no decisions about 2014. ... Everything's on the table."

U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who chairs the House Education Committee, said he's hoping to reauthorize the law over the next few months. "It's a real opportunity to rethink some of the federal role" in education, he said.

Duncan also said several popular programs face cuts or consolidations, including Teach For America, which got an $18 million grant this year. He said the elite teacher training program will have to compete for funding. But the move may actually benefit it, because the program will be eligible for a larger competitive grant, he said.

"We think there's a great chance for programs that are doing a great job to actually increase their funding," Duncan said. "It's an expanded pool of resources, and we want the best to rise to the top."

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