President Obama is poised to broaden federal influence in schools by scrapping key elements of No Child Left Behind, the George W. Bush administration?s signature education law, and substituting his own brand of school reform.
While unpopular with Republicans in Congress and some in the educational establishment, the move is drawing applause from governors struggling to meet the demands of the nine-year-old law.
Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are scheduled tomorrow to detail plans to waive some of the law?s toughest requirements, including the goal that every student be proficient in math and reading by 2014, or their schools could face escalating sanctions.
In exchange for relief, the administration will require a quid pro quo: States must adopt changes that could include expanding charter schools, linking teacher evaluations to student performance, and upgrading academic standards. As many as 45 states are expected to seek waivers.
For many students, the most tangible impact could be what won?t happen. They won?t see half their teachers fired, their principal removed, or school shut down because some students failed to test at grade level - all potential consequences under the current law.
?It?s a momentous development,?? said Jack Jennings, president of the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy. The White House is essentially rewriting the law, he said, leaving Congress on the sidelines.
Duncan said the administration has no other choice, driven by mounting pressures on schools caused by the law and no clear sign that Congress will fix its flaws. Lawmakers have been trying for four years.
?I feel compelled to do this,?? Duncan said as he rode a bus two weeks ago to tour schools in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. ?My absolute preference is for Congress to fix it for the entire country. But there?s a level of dysfunction in Congress that?s paralyzing. And we?re getting to the point that this law is holding back innovation, holding back progress.??
Duncan already has propelled school systems across the country to make sweeping changes by awarding a record $8 billion, provided by the economic stimulus package, to states and districts that embraced Obama?s agenda. Even states that did not win money through the best-known of those programs, called Race to the Top, changed policies and laws to compete for the funds.