Saturday, March 13, 2010

Obama proposes 'No Child' overhaul

Stay posted to this blog for updates on the ESEA reauthorization blueprint. This article touches on some of the implications that such a substantial shift can have on students but doesn't address what this means for our nation's growing bilingual learner students and how they fit in as a priority. Check out yesterday's comments by Professor Suarez-Orozco on NPR's LatinoUSA.

Also, refer to earlier articles and commentary on Texas' House Bill 3 from the last legislative session to get a glimpse of what it means to see public school education as an instrument of college readiness.

This conversation impacts us all.


By Nick Anderson | Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 13, 2010

President Obama proposed Saturday to overhaul the No Child Left Behind law, saying he wanted to help all students get on track for college and careers, through a new school accountability system that he hoped could be in place within four years.

"Under these guidelines, schools that achieve excellence or show real progress will be rewarded," Obama said in his weekly radio and internet addresss, "and local districts will be encouraged to commit to change in schools that are clearly letting their students down."

Obama wants to drop the No Child label and reshape the law without scraping it entirely. But that approach drew immediate fire from teacher unions, which have been among the foremost critics of the testing program begun under President George W. Bush.

Obama's plan "appears to place 100 percent of responsibility on educators and gives them zero percent authority," American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said after being briefed by administration officials.

National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel said the plan does too little to help teachers when budget shortages are putting tens of thousands in jeopardy of layoffs in the coming school year.

Administration officials said the president's plan would jettison some mandated remedies for schools that fall short of targets, require states to ensure that students are on a path to "college and career readiness" by 2020, and clamp down on the lowest-performing schools as never before.

The plan would retain annual testing in reading and math but raise expectations for students and place more importance on academic growth than the law's current pass-fail approach.

The president had telegraphed a stringent accountability policy on March 1 when he expressed support for a decision to fire the staff of a struggling high school in Rhode Island, enraging teachers unions. However, Obama pledged in the Saturday address to treat teachers "like the professionals they are."

Obama's proposal seeks to guide Congress as lawmakers embark on a bipartisan effort to rewrite the law enacted in 2002. House and Senate committees have held hearings on the expansion of public charter schools and the lagging performance of U.S. students on international tests. Republicans say their teamwork with Democrats so far contrasts starkly with partisan battles on other issues.

Whether a bill can be passed before this year's midterm elections remains uncertain. Still, the proposal adds to the growing sense that public education is on the verge of major change.

Several states competing this year for federal grants have proposed to tie teacher evaluations to student achievement data and take other steps toward performance pay. On Wednesday, governors and state schools chiefs proposed common academic standards in math and English that seem on track for adoption in many states. New standards would drive new textbooks, curriculum and teacher training across the country.

Some analysts predict a rocky path for schools in the pursuit of higher standards because inexperienced and often ineffective teachers are disproportionately paired with students who need the most help.

"Our schools have not been in the business of preparing most kids for college," said Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust, an organization that supports disadvantaged students. "We are going to have to profoundly and broadly change the way we do schooling. Our concern is whether or not the adults can make the changes quickly enough to get the kids there. Everybody needs to be all in."

Education Department officials provided briefings on the Obama blueprint Friday to reporters, governors and interest groups, but the document itself remained under wraps as of Saturday morning.

Obama's plan would preserve core elements of the No Child Left Behind program: States would still test students every year in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, officials said, and test scores would still be reported in detail for subgroups of students to ensure that racial, ethnic and other achievement gaps are exposed.

Under the No Child law, states are required to establish benchmarks toward a goal of 100 percent proficiency in reading and math by 2014. Although the law provides exceptions for many students, that goal is widely seen as unreachable.

The plan envisions a transition period, officials said, through 2014, to account for the development of new standards.

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