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NCLB Outrages

Education groups vary in response to White House plan

Ohanian Comment: When the Obama corporate plan passes, we'll be looking back with nostalgia for the good old days under Bush.

The lowest 5% of schools in the country ΓΆ€” about 5,000 ΓΆ€” will be required to take drastic steps to improve, including firing their principal and, in some cases, at least half of their staff, as happened last month at a Rhode Island high school. Has anybody figured out that there will always be 5,000 lowest scoring schools?

Reader Comment: All the education in the world wont help if the jobs aren't there.

By Greg Toppo

The Obama administration's plan to make sweeping changes to the 2002 No Child Left Behind education law is getting mixed reaction among educators: Teachers unions complained that teachers are being scapegoated by the overhaul; a school board leader praised it but called for more flexibility; and an administrators group said it was just glad to see NCLB go away.

"It's a classic blind man's elephant: Everyone seems to be focusing on just one part of the proposal they like or hate, but not seeing the big picture," said Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington education think tank.

The Obama administration is asking Congress to toss out the old system under NCLB in which schools either passed or failed and replace it with one that labels schools one of three ways: high-performing, needs improvement or chronically low-performing, Education Secretary Arne Duncan says.

In a briefing Friday, Duncan said he will give the high performers both freedom and financial incentives to stay that way.

"We want to get out of their way," Duncan said. "But we also want to learn from them."

BLUEPRINT: Administration unveils plan for education

President Obama announced the change Saturday during his radio address, noting American students are losing ground to peers internationally in math and science and in high school graduation rates and facing the prospect of not reaching their full potential.

"I don't accept that future for them. And I don't accept that future for the United States of America," Obama said.

For the USA's lowest 5% of schools ΓΆ€” about 5,000 ΓΆ€” Duncan says he'll require them to take drastic steps to improve, including firing their principal and, in some cases, at least half of their staff, as happened last month at a Rhode Island high school.

That proposal could widen an administration rift with teachers unions. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said teachers "should be empowered and supported ΓΆ€” not scapegoated."

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, said the union was expecting a broader effort. Instead, the blueprint still relies on standardized tests and "too much top-down scapegoating of teachers and not enough collaboration."

The blueprint is part of the planned overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the most recent version of which was nicknamed No Child Left Behind by the Bush administration. The law, which pushes school improvements mostly through annual testing in reading and math, is overdue for a reauthorization and Obama wants Congress to do it this year, with a handful of radical changes. Among them:

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Require states to adopt "dramatically higher" academic standards by 2014.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Scrap NCLB's 2014 deadline for all students to be proficient in math and reading and replace it with a 2020 "college- and career-ready" benchmark measured through annual tests

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Allow schools to use subjects other than math and reading in their annual ratings.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Use "value-added" indicators to rate teachers and schools, tracking how much students learn throughout the school year.

Anne Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association, called the plan a vast improvement over NCLB, but said more local flexibility is needed for turning around the lowest performing schools.

Daniel Domenech, who heads the American Association of School Administrators, said he likes the outline he saw, calling it "more realistic, more valid and reliable" than NCLB. "It really makes us feel the urgency to have ESEA reauthorized, the sooner the better, so we can get out from under the restrictions of No Child Left Behind," he said.

— Greg Toppo
USA Today


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