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Obama to Seek Sweeping Change in No Child Law

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  • BBracey@aol.com
    February 1, 2010 Obama to Seek Sweeping Change in ‘No Child’ Law http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/01/education/01child.html?pagewanted=2 By SAM DILLON The
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 31, 2010
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      February 1, 2010
      Obama to Seek Sweeping Change in ‘No Child’ Law

      http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/01/education/01child.html?pagewanted=2

      By SAM DILLON
      The Obama administration is proposing a sweeping overhaul of President
      Bush’s signature education law, No Child Left Behind, and will call for
      broad changes in how schools are judged to be succeeding or failing, as
      well as for the elimination of the law’s 2014 deadline for bringing
      every American child to academic proficiency.

      Educators who have been briefed by administration officials said the
      proposals for changes in the main law governing the federal role in
      public schools would eliminate or rework many of the provisions that
      teachers’ unions, associations of principals, school boards and other
      groups have found most objectionable.

      Yet the administration is not planning to abandon the law’s commitments
      to closing the achievement gap between minority and white students and
      to encouraging teacher quality.

      Significantly, said those who have been briefed, the White House wants
      to change federal financing formulas so that a portion of the money is
      awarded based on academic progress, rather than by formulas that
      apportion money to districts according to their numbers of students,
      especially poor students. The well-worn formulas for distributing tens
      of billions of dollars in federal aid have, for decades, been a
      mainstay of the annual budgeting process in the nation’s 14,000 school
      districts.

      Peter Cunningham, a Department of Education spokesman, acknowledged
      that the administration was planning to ask Congress for broad changes
      to the education law, but declined to describe the changes specifically.

      He said that although the administration had developed various
      proposals, it would solicit input from Congressional leaders of both
      parties in coming weeks to create legislative language that can attract
      bipartisan support. Some details of the president’s proposals are
      expected to be made public on Monday, when the president outlines his
      $3.8 trillion budget for the 2011 fiscal year.

      The changes would have to be approved by Congress, which has been at a
      stalemate for years over how to change the policy.

      Currently the education law requires the nation’s 98,000 public schools
      to make “adequate yearly progress” as measured by student test scores.
      Schools that miss their targets in reading and math must offer students
      the opportunity to transfer to other schools and free after-school
      tutoring. Schools that repeatedly miss targets face harsher sanctions,
      which can include staff dismissals and closings. All students are
      required to be proficient by 2014.

      Educators have complained loudly in the eight years since the law was
      signed that it was branding tens of thousands of schools as failing but
      not forcing them to change.

      The secretary of education, Arne Duncan, foreshadowed the elimination
      of the 2014 deadline in a September speech, referring to it as a
      “utopian goal,” and administration officials have since made clear that
      they want the deadline eliminated. In recent meetings with
      representatives of education groups, Department of Education officials
      have said they also want to eliminate the school ratings system built
      on making “adequate yearly progress” on student test scores.

      “They were very clear with us that they would change the metric,
      dropping adequate yearly progress and basing a new system on another
      picture of performance based on judging schools in a more nuanced way,”
      said Bruce Hunter, director of public policy for the American
      Association of School Administrators, who attended one of the meetings.

      The current system issues the equivalent of a pass-fail report card for
      every school each year, an evaluation that administration officials say
      fails to differentiate among chaotic schools in chronic failure,
      schools that are helping low-scoring students improve and
      high-performing suburban schools that nonetheless appear to be
      neglecting some low-scoring students.

      Instead, under the administration’s proposals, a new accountability
      system would divide schools into more categories, offering recognition
      to those that are succeeding and providing large new amounts of money
      to help improve or close failing schools.

      A new goal, which would replace the 2014 universal proficiency
      deadline, would be for all students to leave high school “college or
      career ready.” Currently more than 40 states are collaborating, in an
      effort coordinated by the National Governors Association and encouraged
      by the administration, to write common standards defining what it means
      to be a graduate from high school ready for college or a career.

      The new standards will also define what students need to learn in
      earlier grades to advance successfully toward high school graduation.

      The administration has already made its mark on education through Race
      to the Top, a federal grant program in which 40 states are competing
      for $4 billion in education money included in last year’s federal
      stimulus bill. In his State of the Union address, Mr. Obama hailed the
      results so far of that competition, which has persuaded states from
      Rhode Island to California to make changes in their education laws.
      States that prohibit the use of test scores in teacher evaluations, for
      example, are not eligible for the funds. The competition has also
      encouraged states to open the door to more charter schools, which
      receive public money but are run by independent groups.

      Now the administration hopes to apply similar conditions to the
      distribution of the billions of dollars that the Department of
      Education hands out to states and districts as part of its annual
      budget.

      “They want to recast the law so that it is as close to Race to the Top
      as they can get it, making the money conditional on districts’ taking
      action to improve schools,” said Jack Jennings, president of the Center
      on Education Policy, who attended a recent meeting at which
      administration officials outlined their plans in broad strokes. “Right
      now most federal money goes out in formulas, so schools know how much
      they’ll get, and then use it to provide services for poor children. The
      department thinks that’s become too much of an entitlement. They want
      to upend that scheme by making states and districts pledge to take
      actions the administration considers reform, before they get the money.”

      One section of the current Bush-era law has required states to certify
      that all teachers are highly qualified, based on their college
      coursework and state-issued credentials. In the Race to the Top
      competition, the administration has required participating states to
      develop the capability to evaluate teachers based on student test data,
      at least in part, and on whether teachers are successful in raising
      student achievement.

      Educators who have talked to the administration said the officials
      appeared to be considering inserting similar provisions into the main
      education law, by requiring the use of student data in teacher
      evaluation systems as a condition for receiving federal education
      money. Mr. Duncan has publicly endorsed such an approach, Mr.
      Cunningham said.

      The education law has been praised for focusing attention on
      achievement gaps, but it has also generated tremendous opposition,
      especially from educators, who contend that it sets impossible goals
      for students and schools and humiliates students and educators when
      they fall short. The law has, to date, labeled some 30,000 schools as
      “in need of improvement,” a euphemism for failing, but states and
      districts have done little to change them.

      The last serious attempt to rewrite the law was in 2007. That effort
      collapsed, partly because teachers’ unions and other educator groups
      opposed an effort to incorporate merit pay provisions into a rewritten
      law. Earlier this month, Mr. Duncan and more than a dozen other
      administration officials took steps toward organizing a new rewrite,
      meeting with the Democratic chairmen and ranking Republican members of
      the education committees in both houses of Congress.
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