It’s Time to Fix No Child Left Behind

President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan talk with students and teachers at the Kenmore Middle School

President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan talk with students and teachers at the Kenmore Middle School auditorium in Arlington, Va. March 14, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

“I want every child in this country to head back to school in the fall knowing that their education is America’s priority. Let’s seize this education moment.  Let’s fix No Child Left Behind,” said President Obama earlier today at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Virginia.  President Obama was joined by Secretary Duncan, teachers, representatives from major education associations, and Kenmore students.

In introducing President Obama, Secretary Duncan explained that, “While No Child Left Behind helped expand the standards and accountability movement, there is much that needs to be fixed.”

Many teachers complain bitterly about NCLB’s emphasis on testing. Principals hate being labeled as failures. Superintendents say it wasn’t adequately funded. And many parents just view it as a toxic brand that isn’t helping children learn.  We need to fix NCLB now. And it can’t wait.

During the speech, President Obama spoke directly to America’s teachers:

Now, I want to speak to teachers in particular here.  I’m not talking about more tests.  I’m not talking about teaching to the test.  We don’t need to know whether a student can fill out a bubble.  We do need to know whether they’re making progress.  We do need to know whether they’re not only mastering reading, math, and science, but also developing the kinds of skills, like critical thinking and creativity and collaboration that I just saw on display with the students that I met here.  Those are skills they’re going to need for the rest of their lives, not just to be good workers, but to be good citizens.

Now, that doesn’t mean testing is going to go away; there will be testing.  But the point is, is that we need to refine how we’re assessing progress so that we can have accountability without rigidity — accountability that still encourages creativity inside the classroom, and empowers teachers and students and administrators.

Read the White House blog post, and you can also read President Obama’s speech and Secretary Duncan’s speech.  The White House also released a fact sheet that lays out the President’s priorities for fixing NCLB.

Duncan and Senators Call for Education Reform

Arne Duncan speaks to the media about the need for reform

Earlier this morning Secretary Arne Duncan joined a group of moderate Democratic Senators at Walker Jones Education Campus in Washington, DC to tour the K-8 school and call for education reform.

The group of Senators included Kay R. Hagan (D-N.C.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Thomas Carper (D-Del.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.).  The Senators and four of their colleagues—Senators Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.) have agreed on a set of principles for moving forward this year on a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

“We know the results of doing nothing, and they are catastrophic,” said Senator Bennet. “The time for bold action is now.”

Secretary Duncan explained that a major goal of reauthorization is to “raise the bar” for college and career ready standards, but also to empower great teachers, great principals and great local communities:

“They know their children much better than we [in Washington] do,” said Duncan. “We can’t begin to micromanage 95,000 schools from Washington, and we don’t want to.  Frankly, we want to reduce the federal footprint.”

He also noted that Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and House Committee on Education and the Workforce (E&W) Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.), as well as HELP Ranking Member Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and E&W Ranking Member George Miller (D-Calif.), are working hard on an ESEA reauthorization bill and that he would continue to work with Congress in a bipartisan way to fix the law this year.

In discussing the principles that the Senators presented, Senator Lieberman noted that “these principles are not Democratic or Republican.  They are not Liberal or Conservative.  They’re just consistent with our natural American values.”

More information on ESEA reauthorization can be found at the Department of Education’s “A Blueprint for Reform” page.