Obama: Revise No Child Left Behind law

By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 14, 2010

President Obama proposed overhauling the No Child Left Behind law that was his predecessor's hallmark education initiative, aiming to eliminate several of the measure's controversial mandates on public schools but adding new ones.

Students would still be tested every year in reading and math under Obama's proposal, but scores in other subjects could also be used to measure progress, addressing concerns of parents and teachers who say the law has shortchanged such topics as history and science.

The president's proposal to Congress, released Saturday, would place more importance on academic growth than the current pass-fail approach to judging schools. If a student were to start class work three grade levels behind and move up two by the end of the school year, that would count as a victory. Now, it is rated a failure because the student is still behind.

In the 41-page blueprint, Obama wrote that his proposal "is not only a plan to renovate a flawed law, but also an outline for a re-envisioned federal role in education."

President George W. Bush considered No Child Left Behind one of his signature achievements because it brought new attention to achievement gaps between disadvantaged children and those who are better off. Large bipartisan majorities in Congress voted for the measure. But soon after the law took effect in 2002, its emphasis on standardized tests drew criticism from some quarters.

Obama came into office a critic of the law, and many of his supporters hoped that he would dump it. Teachers union leaders were disappointed Saturday by Obama's proposal, saying it puts an unfair onus on educators.

His plan would replace an annual review of public schools that experts say has been losing relevance as a growing number -- one in three as of the 2008-09 school year -- fail to meet academic targets. He wants a new accountability system within four years, one that would require states to verify that all students by 2020 are on a path toward "college and career readiness" and that would clamp down on the lowest-performing schools as never before.

The proposal would authorize $29 billion in aid for schools, a 16 percent increase. Most of the new money would be delivered through competitive grants, rather than formulas that would spread it more evenly among states.

"Schools that achieve excellence or show real progress will be rewarded," Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday, "and local districts will be encouraged to commit to change in schools that are clearly letting their students down."

The president telegraphed his position on a stringent accountability policy 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."

Teachers union leaders reacted skeptically.

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

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