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Is the Obama administration leaving 'No Child Left Behind' behind?

The administration is apparently planning a big overhaul of the No Child Left Behind law. The idea seems to be to remove some of the most problematic provisions -- like the mandate that all students at all schools achieve full proficiency by 2014 -- and rebuild the law in the image of the Race to the Top program that was included in the stimulus. The New York Times explains:

The administration has already made its mark on education through Race to the Top, a federal grant program in which 40 states are competing for $4 billion in education money included in last year’s federal stimulus bill. In his State of the Union address, Mr. Obama hailed the results so far of that competition, which has persuaded states from Rhode Island to California to make changes in their education laws. States that prohibit the use of test scores in teacher evaluations, for example, are not eligible for the funds. The competition has also encouraged states to open the door to more charter schools, which receive public money but are run by independent groups.

Now the administration hopes to apply similar conditions to the distribution of the billions of dollars that the Department of Education hands out to states and districts as part of its annual budget.

“They want to recast the law so that it is as close to Race to the Top as they can get it, making the money conditional on districts’ taking action to improve schools,” said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, who attended a recent meeting at which administration officials outlined their plans in broad strokes. “Right now most federal money goes out in formulas, so schools know how much they’ll get, and then use it to provide services for poor children. The department thinks that’s become too much of an entitlement. They want to upend that scheme by making states and districts pledge to take actions the administration considers reform, before they get the money.”

The irony of this is that the Bush administration's preference for strict federal mandates probably tracks as more traditionally liberal than the Obama administration's idea to condition the money on change but give states ample room to go their own way. That said, the Race to the Top program, though promising, has had a bumpy beginning.

By Ezra Klein  |  February 1, 2010; 8:22 AM ET
Categories:  Education  
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Comments

As an employee in a school system, I fully support this. I fully support anything that gets more money into my school system. ;)

"The irony of this is that the Bush administration's preference for strict federal mandates probably tracks as more traditionally liberal than the Obama administration's idea to condition the money on change but give states ample room to go their own way"

This is true, though the mandates being more conservative--that is, based on performance, rather than process--is appealing to conservatives, and less-so to liberals, as it would seem to punish students in poorly performing districts, etc. Though the carrot and the stick did seem to work, in places.

Still, less mandates may work better. Thought to qualify for Race to the Top, you have to be able to furnish data that suggests you are both reformable and reforming according to the Federal government, and these become de facto mandates.

Such reform is likely to be six of one, a half-dozen of the other. There is good and bad in it but, in the end, if the school systems don't want to meet the requirements, such as they are, they can just refuse the money. Which, I suspect, most of them aren't going to do.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | February 1, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

NCLB is an absolute mess and at least in our districts ended up with way too many students not being helped but rather being shoved to a level that they didn't belong and thus further exascerbated the problem.

Race to the Top in its premise seems good but in action it needs to work out the kinks which shows why doing something like this on a national scale can be very difficult. What works in NJ doesn't necessarily work in California or NY or MI. Definitely better but mainly because it can't get much worse.

Posted by: visionbrkr | February 1, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Is it true that much of "reform" has simply created a situation in which teachers have no job but to cram their students for tests? School funding and their own employment depend on this. Kids learn to take (and value) tests. Anything much else, not so much.

I'd love to hear people with real experience on this.

Posted by: janinsanfran | February 1, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Based on that article alone, I don't know that I would characterize RttT's beginning as "bumpy". I would characterize it as uncertain.

The real question for RttT isn't who applies, but rather, who gets funded. That is where we'll be able to determine if the substance matches the rhetoric.

Posted by: slag | February 1, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

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