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Obama on No Child Left Behind: Congress isn’t acting, ‘so I will’

Obama_Thumb_1671.jpg
Obama_Thumb_1671.jpg

Earlier this morning, President Obama announced a set of criteria for states to opt out of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law following a long period of dissatisfaction with the 9-year-old national education policy.

(For a full look at what the White House is asking from states in exchange for issuing waivers from the federal education law, read The American Independent’s breakdown, here.)

“Congress has not been able to fix these flaws so far. I’ve urged Congress for a while now, let’s get a bipartisan effort, let’s fix this,” the president said during the indoor media event. ”Our kids only get one shot at a decent education. They cannot afford to wait any longer. So, given that Congress cannot act, I am acting.”

The president stood with U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and various state government and education leaders. Underlying the bipartisan collaboration the administration has fostered on the state level, Gov. Bill Haslam (R-Tenn.) introduced Obama, stating he looks forward “to the federal government narrowing its role in education.”

Haslam added: “Education decisions are best made at the state and local level.”

Under the 2002 legislation, students are permitted to transfer to new schools if their current schools fail to meet state proficiency two years in a row. Even more costly, 20 percent of an under-performing school’s federal dollars are redirected to fund tutoring services for low-income students after three years of missing state standards. The build up of high-stakes testing that determine whether the state is meeting proficiency benchmarks — called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) — was established by the federal law but allowed for states to craft the specifics.

Though the president’s remarks were light on the details — having his administration staff lay out the terms in a closed session with journalists Thursday — education policy analyst Ulrich Boser of Center for American Progress said the live event demonstrates his commitment to education policy.

“The president has the bully pulpit … in light of the impending United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood and a looming government shutdown,” Boser said, “this is significant from a policy and political perspective that he did speak about it.”

During a briefing to reporters Thursday, senior administration officials laid out the White House’s expectations before granting states the option to opt out of the punitive portions of NCLB, calling it the “flexibility package.”

Broadly, states would need to develop a set of instructional standards that are college- and career-ready. They asked to adopt School Improvement Grant provisions like turning around the bottom five percent of schools in terms of performance while having plans in place to improve schools with low graduation rates and subsets of the student body that are considerably behind their peers.

Kristen Amundson, head of communications at education think tank Education Sector based in Washington, D.C., said the emphasis on flexibility, and by extension, the dearth of expected quantifiable outputs, is intentional. “The department seems very sincere in laying out general parameters for improving systems without hard numbers. I would be surprised if they did,” she said.

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