President Barack Obama is proposing to overhaul the No Child Left Behind education law, replacing the school accountability system that has slapped a failing label on more than a third of schools, including many that made big gains but just missed their annual targets.
No Child Left Behind prods schools to improve test scores each year, so that every student can read and do math on grade level by the year 2014.
In his budget plan, Obama proposed judging schools differently, looking at student growth and schools' progress from one year to the next. Schools that do well would get incentives and rewards; schools that do poorly would face intervention and other consequences.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan credited No Child Left Behind with shining a spotlight on children who need the most help. But he told reporters Monday on a conference call the law "does too little to reward progress."
The president's budget plan says Obama would recognize and reward schools for helping kids make gains, even if they aren't yet on grade level.
Administration officials have spent recent weeks discussing their goals in meetings with education groups. Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, said "this administration is not going to retreat" from pushing poor-performing schools to do better.
"The reality is, less might be expected of some, but more will be expected of others," said Haycock, who participated in the meetings.
There are no details yet; officials have spoken only broadly about their plan.
Championed by President George W. Bush and signed into law in 2002, No Child Left Behind is overdue for a rewrite and Obama hopes Congress will pass a new law this year.
Critics argue the law's annual reading and math tests have forced other subjects like music and art from the classroom and that schools were promised billions of dollars that never showed up.
The new budget blueprint, and the recent meetings with education groups, give a look at Obama's thinking on other aspects of the law:
—Teachers. The 2002 law said all teachers in core academic subjects must be "highly qualified" but let states define what that meant; as a result, most teachers in the U.S. are now deemed highly qualified. Instead, Obama wants to measure teachers by how much their students improve, and he wants to do a better job of making sure disadvantaged kids, who are more likely to get inexperienced teachers, get experienced ones. The budget would create a $950 million competitive grant program for teacher recruitment and retention.
—Spending. Obama wants to make federal education spending more competitive to drive states and schools to do better, rather than relying on formulas that give states and districts a certain amount of money regardless of how well they educate kids. The president began with the $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" competitive grant program created by the economic stimulus. His budget would make more K-12 spending competitive — but money from the larger programs, those for poor children and children with disabilities, still would be distributed through traditional formulas. And his budget would add another $1.35 billion to the Race to the Top program.
—Standards. The president is pushing states to adopt tougher academic standards; his budget would give states money to align math and science teaching with higher standards. Nearly all the states have signed onto an effort by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers to develop a set of high-quality standards. The Race to the Top program also will reward states for working toward those standards.
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