ATLANTA – The Obama administration unveiled its plan Saturday to radically change his predecessor’s No Child Left Behind education law in hopes of replacing an accountability system that in the last decade has tagged more than a third of U.S. schools as failing and created a hodgepodge of sometimes weak academic standards among states.
The changes would dismantle the 2002 law championed by President George W. Bush, moving away from punishing schools that do not meet benchmarks and instead focusing on rewarding schools for progress, particularly with poor and minority students. The blueprint calls for states to adopt standards that ensure students are ready for college or a career rather than grade-level proficiency – the focus of the current law.
“Unless we take action – unless we step up – there are countless children who will never realize their full talent and potential,” Obama said during his weekly video address Saturday. “I don’t accept that future for them. And I don’t accept that future for the United States of America.”
The blueprint also would allow states to use subjects other than reading and mathematics as part of their measurements for meeting federal goals, pleasing many education groups that have said the No Child Left Behind law encouraged teachers not to focus on history, art, science, social studies and other important subjects.
And, for the first time in the law’s history, the White House is proposing a $4 billion increase in federal education spending, most of which would go to increase the competition among states for grant money and move away from formula-based funding.
The blueprint goes before the House Education and Labor Committee on Wednesday as Obama pushes Congress to reauthorize the education law this year, a time-consuming task that some observers say will be difficult. Committee Chairman George Miller, a Democrat from California, praised Obama’s plan.
“This blueprint lays the right markers to help us reset the bar for our students and the nation,” Miller said in a prepared statement.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan briefed a handful of governors, lawmakers and education groups on the plan Friday, including Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican.
“The governor is very supportive of the direction the secretary is going,” said Perdue’s spokesman Chris Schrimpf.
A few other highlights from the blueprint:
— By 2020, all students graduating from high school would need to be ready for college or a career. That’s a shift away from the current law, which calls for all students to be performing at grade level in reading and math by 2014.
— Give more rewards – money and flexibility – to high-poverty schools that are seeing big gains in student achievement and use them as a model for other schools in low-income neighborhoods that struggle with performance.
— Punish the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools using aggressive measures, such as having the state take over federal funding for poor students, replacing the principal and half the teaching staff or closing the school altogether.
— Duncan has said the name No Child Left Behind will be dropped because it is associated with a harsh law that punishes schools for not reaching benchmarks even if they’ve made big gains. He said the administration will work with Congress to come up with a new name.
Amy Wilkins, a vice president with The Education Trust in Washington, D.C., called the blueprint a “culture shift.”
“One of the things America has not been clear about is what K-12 (kindergarten through 12th grade) is supposed to do,” Wilkins said. “In this, we’re saying K-12 is supposed to prepare kids for college and meaningful careers.”
The nation’s first federal education law – the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – was passed in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty. The law has been reauthorized several times since, most recently in 2001 under President George W. Bush.
The latest version was criticized by educators for focusing too much on testing and not enough on learning. Dr. Daniel Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said he is glad to see No Child Left Behind go away.
“We’re delighted over that,” he said. “We have not been a fan of No Child Left Behind.”