Administration Outlines Proposed Changes to ‘No Child’ Law

The Obama administration outlined on Monday morning some of the proposed changes it would like to make in a sweeping overhaul of President Bush’s signature education law, No Child Left Behind. The changes, which are outlined in a document discussing the Department of Education portions of the president’s $3.8 trillion budget for the 2011 fiscal year, include the replacement of the current system for judging schools based on student test scores and the shift toward increased competition in distributing federal education dollars.

The administration is also proposing to eliminate the law’s 2014 deadline for bringing every American child to academic proficiency.

In releasing the summary of its budget proposals, the Department of Education said, “the Administration will propose to replace the accountability system established in No Child Left Behind with a new system built around the goal of helping all students graduate high school college- and career-ready.”

Department officials, who love acronyms, have already dubbed the new college- and career-ready goal as “CCR.”

“States would measure school performance and differentiate schools on the basis of progress in getting all subgroups of students on track to CCR, the growth of individual students toward CCR, progress toward closing subgroup achievement gaps, graduation rates (at the high school level) and other measures as appropriate,” the summary said. “Schools that are showing significant improvement,” it said, “would be eligible for recognition and rewards.”

The proposals for changes in the No Child law, the main statute governing the role of the federal government 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 educators who have been briefed by administration officials on the proposals, 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 spokesman, said that the administration would solicit input from Congressional leaders of both parties in coming weeks to create legislative language that can attract bipartisan support. .

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.

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