Can Obama, Congress meet minds to revamp No Child Left Behind?
A new version of No Child Left Behind may target only the bottom 5 percent of schools for intervention. For most schools, mandates based on student test scores would be rolled back.
President Obama campaigned on bringing common-sense changes to the federal role in K-12 education. But even with a Democratic-controlled Congress, efforts toward a long-overdue revision of No Child Left Behind made little headway.Skip to next paragraph
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NCLB's goals are widely praised: improve education and close the gaps in opportunity and achievement faced by low-income and minority students.
But the law's methods have proven unpopular. Nine years after complex testing and accountability systems became the new normal in American schools, the question looms: Can the Obama administration rally a bipartisan group of lawmakers to agree on key changes to the law before election cycle gridlock threatens to set in?
School administrators hope so. They call the current goal – 100 percent of students reaching math and reading targets by 2014 – unrealistic. They hope a new law would roll back the strict requirements and timelines that characterize NCLB. And state and local school leaders need more choices about how best to improve achievement, say groups such as the National School Boards Association.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says revising the law is his top priority. He hopes his months of bipartisan meetings are about to pay off. He has met regularly with members of Congress, particularly since last March, when the administration released its blueprint for a new version of the law, formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
The blueprint calls upon states to agree to higher standards to ensure that high school graduates are ready for college or careers. At the same time, it would roll back the degree to which schools face mandates based on student test scores. Required interventions would affect only the bottom 5 percent of schools.
"The trade-off we want is this much higher bar, but in exchange for that higher bar, give folks a lot more flexibility to hit it at the local level, and frankly, in many ways, get the federal government off their backs," Secretary Duncan said in a recent Monitor interview.
States that competed for Race to the Top stimulus dollars are testing many of the blueprint's ideas, such as revising teacher-evaluation systems to include more consideration of students' academic growth, and taking dramatic actions to turn around the worst schools, including firing principals and teachers, an approach that has generated heated pushback from teachers' unions.