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President Obama's Slow but Steady Progress on Education

Meanwhile, the administration has seized on education funding in the stimulus bill to push its reform agenda. The stimulus included $4.35 billion for competitive grants to states to improve elementary and secondary education -- the largest-ever amount of discretionary federal funding for school reform. The administration's proposed regulations on these Race to the Top funds require that any state wishing to compete for the money must lift restrictions on the number of charter schools and get rid of laws or rules that prohibit linking teacher pay to student performance.

Seven states -- Tennessee, Rhode Island, Indiana, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Colorado and Illinois -- have revoked their limits on charter schools. The California legislature set aside a 2006 law that prohibited using student performance data to evaluate teachers.

Finally, the appropriations bills moving through Congress would further the reform push. Most important, they would dramatically boost funding -- from $97 million in 2009 to as much as $446 million in 2010 -- to offer higher pay to teachers and principals who improve performance in high-poverty schools.

So far, so good -- assuming that squeals from the teachers unions don't result in watering down the Race to the Top rules. But the real test will be whether the administration takes on the task of overhauling No Child Left Behind to maintain the law's focus on holding schools accountable while building some needed flexibility into judging school performance.

On education, the administration gets high marks for its first semester. The final exam is still to be administered.

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