Obama to alter school policy
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The Obama administration is proposing a sweeping overhaul of President George W. 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 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 commitment to imposing higher standards, encouraging teacher quality and closing the achievement gap between minority and white students.
Significantly, said those who have been briefed, the White House wants to change federal financing formulas so that part of the money is awarded based on academic progress, rather than apportioned to districts according to their numbers of students and especially poor students. The well-worn formulas for distributing billions in federal aid have, for several decades, been a mainstay of annual budgeting 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 No Child Left Behind law, but declined to describe them 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 turn the proposed changes into legislative language that can attract bipartisan support. Some details of the president's proposals are expected to be made public today, when the administration outlines its preliminary budget for the 2011 fiscal year. The changes would have to be approved by Congress, which has been stalemated for years over how to change the policy.
Details of the administration's budget headed for Congress include an additional $100 billion to attack high unemployment. The proposed $3.8 trillion budget would provide billions more to pull the country out of the Great Recession while increasing taxes on the wealthy and imposing a spending freeze on many government programs.
Administration projections show the deficit never dropping below $700 billion, even under assumptions that war costs will drop precipitously to just $50 billion in some years instead of more than three times that this year and next.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" that the administration believed "somewhere in the $100 billion range" would be the appropriate amount for a new jobs measure made up of a business tax credit to encourage hiring, increased infrastructure spending and money from the government's bailout fund to get banks to increase loans to struggling small businesses.
That price tag would be below a $174 billion bill passed by the House in December but far higher than a bill the Senate could consider this week.
Job creation was a key theme of the budget, a document designed, as was the president's State of the Union address, to reframe his presidency after a battle over health care damaged his standing in public opinion polls and contributed to a series of Democratic election defeats.
Mr. Obama's $3.8 trillion spending plan for the 2011 budget year that begins Oct. 1 attempts to navigate between the opposing goals of pulling the country out of a deep recession and dealing with a budget deficit that soared to an all-time high of $1.42 trillion last year.
As for the No Child Left Behind law, it currently 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 closure. 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 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, or 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 sums 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.
First Published February 1, 2010 12:00 am