Obama to outline fix for 'No Child Left Behind' that gives states more power

President Obama in a major speech Monday will call for a less Washington-centric approach to education reform which would give more power to state and local governments.

He will outline his vision for improving academic performance across the nation and set guidelines for an education authorization bill pending in Congress.

The president will deliver his remarks at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Va., a school of nearly 800 students in 6th through 8th grade specializing in arts and communications technology.

Obama will call for fixes to the No Child Left Behind education law that passed early in former President George W. Bush’s administration. He plans to drop Bush’s name for the reauthorization of the law.

He will ask Congress to pass a new law that is “fair, flexible and focused on the schools and students most at risk,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a press briefing with reporters Sunday.

“We need to make sure we’re graduating students who are ready for college and a career,” Obama said in a statement released Sunday afternoon. “In the 21st Century, it’s not enough to leave no child behind. We need to help every child get ahead. We need to get every child on a path to academic excellence.”

He wants Congress to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act before the start of next year.

This past week, Obama met with the chairmen and ranking members of the committees and subcommittees with jurisdiction over the education authorization bill, said a senior administration official.

Obama’s plan for closing achievement gaps is to do more to reward excellent principals and teachers and drive innovation through competitive programs such as Race to the Top, which provides grants to states that improve local education programs.

Duncan described No Child Left Behind as a “one-size-fits-all solution.”

“We need to do away with unnecessary federal mandates” in favor of local control that produces results,” Duncan said. “We can’t be top-down from Washington, we have to provide much more flexibility.”

Obama has traveled to schools across the country in recent weeks, visiting Miami Central High School and TechBoston Academy to highlight the success of reforms made at the local level.

Duncan said current federal law is too punitive and does not do enough to reward improvement and innovation. The federal government now grades schools on a pass-fail metric, and the president would like to do more to credit and reward principals and teachers who show improvement over the medium- and long-term.

Under Obama’s plan, principals and teachers would not be judged based on students’ performance on one test on one particular day.

Duncan called the fill-in-the-bubble tests used to assess students “unsophisticated,” and endorsed more advanced evaluations that encourage teachers and parents to work together.

Duncan said current law has placed too much emphasis on testing reading and math, narrowing the curricula at schools around the country.

“Today, far too many teachers feel they have to do with a narrow curriculum focused only on reading and math,” he said. “We need to invest in state and local efforts to support a well-rounded curriculum and allow states to include subjects beyond reading and math in their accountability systems.”

A recent analysis by the Department of Education found that a large majority of schools failed to meet the goals of No Child Left Behind’s accountability system and therefore lost federal aid.

Obama will push for the implementation of new systems to recruit, prepare, develop and reward competent teachers.

“The President’s plan provides resources to back the development of teacher evaluation systems that use student learning and other measures to support and identify good teaching,” according to a fact sheet released by the White House.

Duncan said the president will put special emphasis on turning around the schools that rank in the bottom 5 percent nationally.

“Race to the Top has gotten all the press, which is fine, but I think the more interesting story, and the story that is going to change children’s lives forever is the $4 billion for the bottom 5 percent of schools, the school-improvement grants, and the president will talk about it tomorrow,” Duncan said.