White House: No Child Left Behind reform bills fall short

Arne Duncan, Education, Common Core
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The Obama administration said Monday that it can't support bills in the House and Senate that would reform the No Child Left Behind education law, saying they don't provide enough "accountability" to students and communities.

“The Senate bill is missing key pieces, and we cannot support it as it currently stands,” Education Secretary Arne DuncanArne DuncanProposed Department of Education rule runs counter to ESSA's restrictions In search of the surest Common Core exit route The opt-out movement and the coddling epidemic MORE said in a conference call with reporters. Duncan stopped short of saying whether the president would veto the bill.

“Neither bill pending in the House or Senate has appropriate accountability standards,” added Cecilia Muñoz, the head of President Obama's Domestic Policy Council.

The White House criticism comes as both chambers on Capitol Hill this week turn to legislation to overhaul the controversial No Child Left Behind standards implemented in 2002 that expired in 2007.

The House could vote this week on its measure, which stalled earlier this year over concerns from conservative Republicans that it provided too much of a federal role in local education decisions.

The Senate is expected to begin debate on its No Child Left Behind reforms this week as well.

On Monday, Duncan and Muñoz unveiled the findings from the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), touting gains in student achievement, even as they pressed lawmakers to overhaul federal education standards to give states more flexibility.

According to the report, the U.S. recorded its highest graduation rate at 81 percent. The report also found math and reading scores improved for middle schoolers. In higher education, the NAEP found record numbers of students earning college degrees.

Duncan and Muñoz urged lawmakers to pass legislation giving more power to state and local officials to measure progress and improve schools. But they said those reforms should ensure that federal resources go to communities implementing proven reforms.

“State-driven plans have had the most success,” Duncan said, where officials shared new data on graduation rates and student achievement. “It’s not just about accountability, it’s about taking action.”

The White House officials highlighted a number of communities — Tennessee, Kentucky, the District of Columbia, New Mexico and Denver — that they said escaped the one-size-fits-all approach of No Child Left Behind to implement reforms that better suit their students.

New Mexico moved from a pass/fail accountability system to a letter grade system of evaluation for its schools after receiving more flexibility from the law. Officials said the state’s achievement gaps between white and Hispanic students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress math assessment decreased by 4 percentage points.

Despite the achievements in the report, Duncan pressed Congress to act quickly on education legislation, noting that the lowest performing 5 percent of elementary and middle schools have seen little progress.

The NAEP found achievement gaps across categories of race, income and disability status are heightened in these lowest performing schools. Some states have achievement gaps exceeding 40 percentage points.

Duncan said that, in 2002, “there wasn’t a sense of urgency. Now there is a sense of urgency.”

— This story was updated at 9:30 p.m.