President Obama wants Congress to take up school reform in earnest this year. The president, who has made education a key talking point since the State of the Union, hopes to revamp the Bush-era No Child Left Behind to align with his own reform platform, which the administration has thus far pushed out to states via stimulus money. Both the Bush and Obama approaches have been criticized as being overly focused on testing and punishing teachers.
In a speech at Kenmore Middle School this morning, President Obama called on Congress to pass an updated version of No Child Left Behind before the next school year starts.
“We need to make sure we’re graduating students who are ready for college and ready for careers,” Obama said this morning. “We need to put outstanding teachers in every classroom, and give those teachers the pay and the support that they deserve.”
“In the 21st century, it’s not enough to leave no child behind. We need to help every child get ahead.”
On a Sunday call with reporters, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that updating the law was necessary because four out of five schools don’t meet the law’s basic standards, CNN reported.
“Under the current law, it’s one-size-fits-all,” Duncan said. “We need to fix this law now so we can close the achievement gap.”
President Obama has said that No Child Left Behind doesn’t work because it both allows for watered down standards and leans too much on punishing schools. The administration’s proposals for fixing No Child Left Behind mirror the policy language of its Race to the Top initiative, a $4.3 billion competitive grants program for states. States that have won Race to the Top money did so by overhauling their laws to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores; lifting state caps charter schools; adopting data-tracking systems to evaluate students and agreeing to drastic measures when schools are considered failing. Under the program, failing schools must be submitted to one of four turnaround schemes, each of which involve either shutting down the school and firing all the staff or bringing in a charter school company.
Obama’s No Child Left Behind reform ideas focus on making competitive grants programs like Race to the Top a formal part of federal education law. Thus far, money for Race to the Top has come from the 2009 stimulus bill, which allowed Obama to start pushing his education agenda without having to fight in Congress. But with health care and financial regulation reforms behind him, the president is now moving education into the congressional hopper.
Education may be the one policy area where Obama can hope for bipartisan cooperation.
“Although we have our different approaches, everyone agrees the current law is broken and in need of repair,” said Republican Rep. John Kline and Democratic Rep. Duncan Hunter in a joint statement last week. “The status quo is failing both students and taxpayers.”
When, exactly, congress will take up No Child Left Behind is uncertain. The latest version of the law was passed in 2002.