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Obama seeks to overhaul No Child Left Behind

The president, in his weekly address, says he'll send a blueprint to Congress to give high school grads 'the best chance to succeed' globally. Republicans insist the economy is being ignored.

March 14, 2010|By Richard A. Serrano

Reporting from Washington — President Obama said he would send to Congress on Monday a blueprint for overhauling the nation's education program and the No Child Left Behind project to improve schools, support teachers and set standards that would give high school graduates "the best chance to succeed in a changing world."

Worried that the U.S. is falling behind in education, Obama warned Saturday in his weekly address that "the nation that out-educates us today will out-compete us tomorrow."

He said America had "lost ground" over the last several decades, pointing to 15-year-olds who no longer are near the top in math and science compared with their peers around the world, high school graduation rates that have lagged behind most other wealthy countries, and a United States that no longer leads the world in producing college graduates.

"Unless we step up, unless we take action," Obama said, "there are countless children who will never realize their full talent and potential."

In the Republican response to the president's remarks, Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts said Obama, in the first year of his administration, had spent too much time and energy on healthcare and other issues and not enough on trying to end the recession.

Brown said that "an entire year has gone to waste. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, and many more jobs are in danger. Even now, the president still hasn't gotten the message."

Obama said he would push education reforms aimed at making high school students ready for college and careers by 2020 and at emphasizing academic achievements beyond what were called for under President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind program.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, speaking to reporters on Friday, said that No Child Left Behind, signed into law in 2002, had resulted in lower standards and that teachers spend more time preparing for class than actually instructing.

Duncan has begun working with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to rewrite the law, and he plans to tour schools in Iowa with Senate education committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

How the proposal will fare in Congress is uncertain.

Some teachers' union officials, who have previewed the plan to be unveiled Monday, said it could end up just rewarding the top 10% of schools. Obama did not detail Saturday how his proposal would affect teachers, but education groups were offering comments -- pro and con -- on the role it envisions for teachers.

In an initial review of Obama's plan, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said it made teachers the sole "scapegoat" if students' test scores did not improve -- much more so than principals, school administrators, parents and the students themselves.

"This blueprint places 100% of the responsibility on teachers and gives them zero percent authority," Weingarten said. "For a law affecting millions of schoolchildren and their teachers, it just doesn't make sense to have teachers -- and teachers alone -- bear the responsibility for school and student success."

Weingarten added that the federation was "surprised and disappointed" by the Obama plan and that the group plans to gather input from teachers around the nation before deciding how to officially respond to the proposals.

But Marian Joseph, a former member of the California State Board of Education, said in an interview that she agreed "there should be accountability" of teachers.

But the question, she said, is that if you start replacing teachers and administrators, "What do you do about it? Do you presume that somewhere in some place there are all these remarkable people to replace them?"

richard.serrano@ latimes.com

Complete remarks by Brown and Obama can be found at latimes.com/ticket.

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