U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, seen at a meeting in Washington,… (Leigh Vogel / Getty Images )
If Congress fails to approve changes to a key school accountability bill, federal officials will consider waiving some mandates for states that agree to educational reforms.
Federal education officials said they would prefer that Congress approve a substantially revised version of No Child Left Behind, a package of mainly testing reforms that was the Bush administration's signature education law, approved in 2001. President Obama has asked Congress to reauthorize the bill by this fall. But lawmakers may miss that deadline, Education Department officials said.
If an agreement cannot be reached, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, his department is prepared to offer states that undertake reform efforts some flexibility on federal requirements.
"The worst-case scenario is Congress does nothing and we do nothing," Duncan said in a conference call with reporters last week.
Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), who heads the education and workforce committee, said he hopes that Congress will take action this legislative session.
"It's a moral imperative, an economic necessity and simply the right thing to do for our children and the future of this country," he said in a statement.
Duncan did not offer specifics on potential reforms. But he said he was interested in an increased emphasis on student improvement on standardized test scores, among other things. The administration has also advocated for districts to use student performance data as one part of teacher evaluations and to consider factors other than seniority during teacher layoffs.
The administration has awarded $4.35 billion in competitive grants to states based partly on their willingness to link student performance to teacher evaluations and similar reforms. California unsuccessfully applied for the money.
Duncan said he wants to get input from local educators before imposing specific requirements on them.
"We want to have a public conversation," he said.
He said states could potentially be exempted from being designated as "failing" campuses under the current No Child Left Behind law. Because virtually all students must be rated "proficient" on standardized tests in such subjects as English and math by 2014, the majority of campuses will probably be labeled failures and could lose funding. The law also allows for schools to be taken over, staff to lose their jobs and other sanctions.
That aspect of the law has been "a slow-motion train wreck for parents, students and teachers," Duncan said.