After 10 years, it’s time to revisit former President George W. Bush’s signature domestic policy achievement, No Child Left Behind. President Obama on Tuesday asked for a rewrite of the revolutionary standards-based law. He wants to set a high bar for states and school districts and give local governments more flexibility for achieving those goals.
There’s just one problem. Obama is modeling his education proposal after the current Race to the Top grant program, which is unpopular with Republicans on Capitol Hill. “Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that is more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids,” Obama said in his State of the Union address, according to the written version of his speech.
Yet GOP lawmakers in charge of this year’s spending bills are looking to eliminate funding for the Education Department’s competitive grant program, which rewards extra money to states that demonstrate innovative ways to boost student achievement. Republicans and other critics of Race to the Top say the government isn’t clear about how it doles out the money and that it is is too dictatorial about the award criteria.
Nonetheless, no one disputes that No Child Left Behind needs some attention. At the very least, lawmakers need to tinker with the fast-approaching 2014 deadline when all states must demonstrate 100 percent proficiency in K-12 education standards. Without any change, school districts across the country will face punitive measures in a few years.
House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., has said he wants to tackle No Child Left Behind in pieces, preferring to steer clear of a massive, unwieldy rewrite of the law. “My goal is to pull back federal involvement in the day-to-day operation of our classrooms so the innovation and accountability being driven by states and local schools has a chance to succeed, and I hope we can find agreement in Washington to allow that to happen,” Kline said on Tuesday.
Obama is sensitive to critiques about an overbearing federal government, but the administration is unlikely to relax its achievement criteria for the sake of giving more power to states. Still, Obama made sure to state that education reform isn’t “just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards, and communities.”