Reporting from Washington — — The Obama administration estimates that 82% of the nation's public schools could fall short of federal standards this year, grades that are not only embarrassing but also mean government intervention for some of them.
In a report to Congress on Wednesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan was urging Congress to change the federal standards so that failing grades are awarded only to the schools most in need of help.
The law known as No Child Left Behind set up an aggressive review designed to make all public school students proficient in reading and math by 2014.
One of Obama's objections to the standards is that they rise each year, so that even schools that are improving can fail to make their "annual yearly progress" marks.
"No Child Left Behind is broken and we need to fix it now," Duncan says in prepared remarks for testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. "This law has created a thousand ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed. We should get out of the business of labeling schools as failures and create a new law that is fair and flexible, and focused on the schools and students most at risk."
Although the official confirmation of the 82% failure rate is new, lawmakers have known for some time that it would be in that range.
Fear of those marks has put Republicans and Democrats in a mood to change the law, at least to adjust the grading criteria. In question is just how sweeping the overhaul of the elementary and secondary education law will be.
For his part, Obama wants to reward schools with high levels of poverty that show improvement. Only those that persistently fail to improve would be subject to intervention by state officials.
In projecting how schools will do, the Department of Education calculates that all schools in the country should get better at the rate of the top 25%. By this standard, the percentage that will not meet goals rises to 82% this year from 37% in 2010, according to the department.
If the vast majority of schools are judged as failures, says Duncan, it's harder to target the ones that are failing to improve.
"[T]he required remedies for all of them are the same," he says in his remarks, "which means we will really fail to serve the students in greatest need."
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