Speaking at the White House on Friday, President Obama discusses changes… (Jason Reed / Reuters )
President Obama this morning unveiled major changes in the way public schools are evaluated, scrapping an essential element of President George W. Bush’s signature education program in favor of letting states come up with their own plans.
Bush had good intentions with his No Child Left Behind plan of 2002, Obama told a crowd of educators and students, but it ended up inspiring states to lower their standards and schools to “teach to the test.”
“Accountability is the right goal,” Obama said, “but experience has taught us that in its implementation No Child Left Behind is ... hurting instead of helping.”
Obama's plan will basically throw out the requirement that every student pass state tests by the 2013-2014 school year, and let states draft their own plans to improve the performance of struggling students in troubled schools.
Schools will not necessarily get failing grades for missing particular goals on state achievement tests, and states will be eligible for more flexibility in how they spend federal money previously marked for special tutoring programs.
Obama hasn’t been able to reach an agreement in Congress on how to amend the elementary- and secondary-education act that carries the No Child Left Behind provisions, so the changes will come by way of state waivers.
The Department of Education will let states apply to change the way they test students and the way they judge school and district performance. States may begin to apply as early as this November.
The waivers will relieve elected officials all over the country who were expecting a raft of school-failure grades next year. About 80% of U.S. schools were projected to earn the "failed" label under the old standards.
But some members of Congress are already reacting negatively to Obama’s move to make the changes with his executive power rather than through legislation. Some believe that the president and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are assuming too much power.
Obama said he has no other choice after his team has been working with Congress for several months to try to remedy the problems without success.
“Congress has not been able to fix these flaws so far,” Obama said, “so I will.”