Northwest Indiana Is Ready

Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams.

We are ready. That’s the message that the One Region, One Vision initiative sent to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan when the Education and the Economy bus tour stopped in Merrillville, Ind., on Thursday afternoon.

Before Secretary Duncan delivered his message about the need to educate our way to a better economy, the conference organizers showed that they’d already learned that lesson.

In a short video that preceded the secretary’s speech, educators and students from throughout the region explained how they are organizing their work around the goal of preparing all students being to be ready for college and careers.

The students talked about how their teachers help them track their progress toward their academic and career goals starting in 8th grade. Shannon Rostin, who is a high school freshman, plans to attend Indiana University and pursue a degree in education. She knows what courses she needs to take to be admitted to IU and is on the path to earning up to 30 credit hours in a dual enrollment program before she even enrolls at the state’s flagship university.

Shannon, like all of those speaking in the video, ended her story by saying: “I am ready.”

The goal of the One Region, One Vision partnership aligns well with President Obama’s agenda to reform America’s schools. In both Race to the Top and the Blueprint for Reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Department has encouraged states to set standards that are aligned with college and career expectations.

Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams.

In his speech, Secretary Duncan praised the collaboration of educators, business executives, and community leaders for working together for education reform. But he also warned that Indiana – and the rest of the country – faces a difficult task if it wants its students to be competitive in the 21st Century economy.

“The reality is tough: Those countries are out-educating Indiana. Plain and simple, they are doing a better job of promoting educational excellence,” Duncan said.

“I know my message today about Northwest Indiana’s educational system has been a sobering one.  But I don’t believe that we do our children or our nation any favors by sugarcoating reality,” he added. “We must deal with these challenges openly and honestly, and with a sense of urgency that has been missing for far too long.”

Duncan praised the region for its commitment to expanding dual enrollment programs and turning around low-performing schools. He also singled out the commitment to college- and career-readiness and the willingness to be held accountable for reaching those rigorous standards.

Those investments in education will yield dividends in the 21st Century economy.

Education and the ‘New Day’ in Detroit

Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams

In a spirited community meeting at a high-performing public school in Detroit, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reminded the audience that the city’s economic renaissance is inextricably linked to the reform of its schools.

“I couldn’t be more hopeful about Detroit,” Duncan told more than 200 parents, community leaders, and Mayor Dave Bing and other political leaders. “There’s an alignment of leadership and an alignment of commitment and courage here.”

Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams

“My challenge to Detroit is to become the fastest improving district in the country. I can’t see any reason why that can’t happen.”

The forum at the Charles H. Wright Academy of Arts and Sciences was the first stop on the second day of the “Education and the Economy: Investing in our Future” bus tour.

Duncan appeared on the panel with Governor Rick Snyder; state Superintendent Mick Flanagan; Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts; Keith Johnson, the president of the Detroit Teachers Union; Sharlonda Buckman, executive director of the Detroit Parent Network; and Dan Varner, the executive director of Excellent Schools Detroit.

“One of the things that’s happening in Detroit is that a coalition of community organizations, philanthropies, and businesses have come together and said we’re no longer going to accept mediocrity for our children,” said Varner.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Varner added that there’s a commitment in the city to begin anew with an intense focus on improving the results for students.

“We have to think as if we were starting from scratch and ask: What do we want to create to ensure we get great educational outcomes for our children,” he said.

But the commitment goes beyond fixing the K-12 schools.  It extends to ensuring students have the opportunity to go to college. Through the Detroit Promise, the public-private partnership guarantees that high school graduates from the city will receive free tuition for at least two years of college.

Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams

“The Detroit Promise is such an important piece of the puzzle,” Duncan said. “It might be about the best economic development tool the city can have.

In addition, the state is committed to turning around the city’s lowest performing schools and engaging its parents in the education of their children.

With all of these commitments in place, Duncan challenged Detroit to be a national leader for reform in urban areas.

“Detroit has the opportunity to leap-frog other urban districts,” Duncan said. “I want to do everything I can to be helpful.”

Education Will Open Doors, Duncan Tells Cleveland Students

Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams

Nearly 1000 people filed into the East Tech High School auditorium in Cleveland on Wednesday afternoon for the third stop, and the largest crowd yet, on the “Education and the Economy” bus tour.

But Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has a personal message for a small group of them. He asked the students in the audience to stand. Several rows of young, mostly African-American men wearing black sweater vests, white dress shirts, ties and khakis seated in the front rows stood, to applause from the crowd. 

Duncan spoke directly to them.

“When I was in high school on the south side of Chicago, my friends could drop out of high school and go to work in the stock yards and steel mills, get a job and take care of a family.  That’s gone now.”


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

He went on to implore everyone attending to find a role in improving Cleveland’s education system and to reject complacency.

“If you do that, doors will open for you, if not – it’s going to be tough.  Cleveland has made real progress, but your goal should be to be the best urban school system in the country four or five years from now.  Cleveland has had some great successes, but now is not the time to rest on your laurels.”

The event “Connecting Cleveland’s Communities and Classrooms,” featured a panel discussion and audience Q&A with Duncan and national and local leaders in community service.  Participants included Joshua DuBois, executive director of The White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships; Acting CEO for the Corporation for National and Community Service Robert Velasco II; Reverend Tracy Lind; Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson; Cleveland schools CEO Eric Gordon, and Nikki Gentile, a 3rd grade teacher from Marion-Sterling school.

But the conversation began before Secretary Duncan’s bus rolled onto East Tech’s campus. The White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships held a forum for leaders of Cleveland community-based organizations. Representatives of the federal Departments of Labor, Agriculture, Health and Human Services and Education, as well as the Corporation for National and Community Service, offered information about federal programs that support local communities.

Representatives of nonprofit groups talked about how they are putting that funding to work in the Cleveland area. Outside in the main hallway of East Tech, government agencies and community groups showcased their programs and provided information to the guests.
 
Once the main event kicked off, Secretary Duncan said the goal was simple: “Connecting Cleveland’s communities and classrooms – what’s working, and what can be done to improve?”  And, he noted, “Any time you have an auditorium full of people talking about education, that’s a good thing.”

The panel discussed topics and audience questions ranged widely; how to increase meaningful parental engagement; how Cleveland has increased graduation rates; what the appropriate role for charter schools is; and from a student in the audience who said he was in foster care and wanted to know, “What will happen in three years when Race to the Top money runs out?  Are students like me going to be left on our own with no help from the system?”

Secretary Duncan was optimistic.  “Race to the Top has catalyzed huge amount of change in this system,” he said.  “Forty-four states have signed on to common core academic standards.  For the first time in Ohio, children are being held to a much higher standard.  When the (Race to the Top) money goes away – I don’t think that goes away.  My hope is that we’ve taken our country in a new direction and will continue to improve.”

Read more about City Year corps members who participated in the East Tech High event.

Cleveland-area Superintendents Talk Back to Washington

Rep. Marcia Fudge, Cleveland-area school superintendents, and ED's Michael Yudin

Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) convened Tuesday's conversation with Cleveland-area school superintendents and ED's Michael Yudin.

CLEVELAND—After a morning spent with students promoting school nutrition and physical education, Acting Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Michael Yudin sat down Tuesday afternoon with superintendents from more than a dozen school districts in the Cleveland metropolitan area, including Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon, who joined Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) as co-host for the lunchtime meeting in the district’s board room.

“We can’t just talk about education. We have to do something,” Congresswoman Fudge said in opening up the conversation. “If we really want to be a country that competes, we need to prepare our young people to do it.”

Yudin, who was joined by ED Special Counsel Julie Miceli, gave an overview of the Obama administration’s cradle-to-career education strategy and talked about the importance of addressing problems with the current No Child Left Behind Law. Secretary Arne Duncan has warned that the nation’s K-12 education system is on course for a “slow-moving train wreck” unless the law is fixed and a more realistic, meaningful and effective accountability system is put in place for America’s schools.

“I agree with the Secretary… It’s a slow-moving train wreck,” said Mark Freeman, the superintendent of the Shaker Heights district. Freeman added that, “I mentioned that to some colleagues on the way down, and they said, ‘No, it’s already a wreck.’ “

Yudin agreed. The current law over-labels schools as failures, does not reward growth and does not give states and local districts flexibility to focus on their biggest problems. “It just isn’t making sense. It isn’t working for too many school districts across the country,” Yudin said. In particular, “The ability to measure growth—and real, meaningful growth—is where we need to go.”

Yudin’s office will soon be announcing a package that will allow states and school districts flexibility within the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind’s formal name) in exchange for commitments to college-and-career-ready standards, effective teaching and school leadership, and improving their lowest-performing schools.

Tuesday’s wide-ranging dialogue with local superintendents touched on special education and its financial costs, the Department’s program to turn around low-performing schools, high school graduation rates and how best to measure them, charter schools, and how to identify and nurture effective teaching.

As the superintendents thanked Yudin for visiting and taking their feedback back to Washington, he expressed his gratitude for their work in Cleveland’s communities. “Thank you all,” he said, “for your commitment to improving outcomes for kids.”

-MASSIE RITSCH
Office of Communications & Outreach

Back-to-School Bus Heads to the Great Lakes

During last week’s #AskArne Twitter Town Hall, Sarah, a third grade teacher, asked if it is possible for Arne to “tour and sponsor real town halls with educators.” This week, ED announced that Secretary Duncan and his senior staff will be holding more than 50 such events next week.

Secretary Duncan stops in New York during last year's back-to-school bus tour.

Starting on Wednesday, September 7, Secretary Duncan and senior ED staff will head to the Great Lakes Region for a Back-to-School Bus Tour. Arne will be making stops in Pittsburgh, Erie, Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit, Merrillville, Ind., Milwaukee and Chicago, and senior ED officials will be hosting dozens of events throughout the Midwest. The theme of the tour is “Education and the Economy: Investing in Our Future.”

Arne will be meeting with educators and talking with students, parents, administrators, and community stakeholders. Among the topics that Secretary Duncan and senior staff will discuss include the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, K-12 reform, transforming the teaching profession, civil rights enforcement, efforts to better serve students with disabilities and English Language Learners, Promise Neighborhoods, the Investing in Innovation (i3) fund, STEM education, increasing college access and attainment as well as vocational and adult education.

Click here for additional details on Secretary Duncan’s back-to-school bus tour stops.

You can follow the progress of this year’s Back-to-School tour right here at the ED Blog, by following #EDTour11 on Twitter, and by signing up for email updates from ED and Secretary Duncan.

Providing Our Schools Relief from No Child Left Behind

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

When I was superintendent in Chicago, I never looked forward to a call from Washington telling me what I have to do. Now that I’m in Washington, I try not to make those calls.

Our job is to support reform that is good for students at the state and local level.  We need to get out of the way wherever we can.  We need to be tight on the goals but loose on the means of achieving them — providing as much flexibility as possible, while maintaining meaningful accountability for improving student outcomes and closing achievement gaps.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) got it backwards — it was loose on the goals but tight on the means — and today it’s forcing states into one-size-fits-all solutions that just don’t work.

The President understands this and he has directed the Department of Education to move ahead in providing relief in return for reform.

With the new school year fast approaching and still no bill to reform NCLB, it’s time to create a process for states to gain flexibility from key provisions of the law, provided that they are willing to embrace education reform.

We will not be giving states a pass on accountability. There will be a high bar for states seeking flexibility within the law, working off a framework that the states themselves have put together with the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Over the past few days, I have talked with more than half of the nation’s governors, and they are pushing us to provide the relief they desperately need and want.

There is no magic bullet for fixing education, and the best ideas will always come from the local level, where hardworking men and women in our schools are doing the hard work every day to educate our children.

We’re still hopeful that Congress can continue its work this fall because a strong bipartisan reauthorization continues to be essential.  In the meantime, states and districts have an opportunity to move forward and receive relief from NCLB’s mandates.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education.

Top 5 Questions About NCLB Flexibility

“We’re still hopeful that Congress can continue its work this fall. In the meantime, states and districts have an opportunity to move forward,” said Secretary Duncan in a statement earlier today announcing the Obama Administration’s plan to provide a process for states to receive flexibility under the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind.  While more details on the flexibility plan are forthcoming, here is a list of the top five questions about the announcement we are hearing.

1. Why now?

Reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB)—is four years late. The Obama administration introduced its Blueprint for Reform sixteen months ago, and President Obama called on Congress in March to finish a bill before the start of the new school year. States, districts, schools and most importantly students cannot wait another school year for this broken law to be fixed.

2. Does the administration’s plan replace Congressional reauthorization?

No, the plan to provide flexibility does not replace a comprehensive reauthorization from Congress. The administration’s plan will provide flexibility to districts and schools to improve student achievement by raising standards while Congress continues to work on reauthorization.

3. Does this regulatory flexibility package offer blanket flexibility to states and districts?

While all states will be eligible for this regulatory flexibility, only states that agree to meet a high bar will receive the flexibility they need to improve education on the ground for students. States granted flexibility would be expected to maintain rigorous accountability, including for subgroups of students.

4. Is there legal authority for the Department to allow this flexibility?

Section 9401 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act) allows the Secretary to waive certain statutory or regulatory requirements of the ESEA.

5. When will this flexibility have an impact on the ground?

We will continue to gather ideas from states in the coming month and plan to roll out details of the package in mid-September. We anticipate that this flexibility will begin to have an impact at the end of the 2011-2012 school year and have the most significant impact beginning in the 2012-2013 school year.

 

Despite Cheating Scandals, Testing and Teaching Are Not at Odds

Cross-posted from the Washington Post.

In the wake of the Atlanta cheating scandal and recent cheating allegations in other school districts (including Washington, DC), On Leadership convened a roundtable on how best to approach teacher incentives in the U.S. education system — with opinion pieces by Duke University behavioral economics professor Dan Ariely, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Howard Gardner, and Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein.

Recent news reports of widespread or suspected cheating on standardized tests in several school districts around the country have been taken by some as evidence that we must reduce reliance on testing to measure student growth and achievement. Others have gone even farther, claiming that cheating is an inevitable consequence of “high-stakes testing” and that we should abandon testing altogether.

To be sure, there are lessons to be learned from these jarring incidents, but the existence of cheating says nothing about the merits of testing. Instead, cheating reflects a willingness to lie at children’s expense to avoid accountability—an approach I reject entirely.

It is also an approach rejected by the vast majority of educators, who would never participate in or excuse cheating.  The Atlanta cheating scandal has been described as the worst known incident of systemic cheating, so it is worth noting that even there investigators found cheating in 44 out of 2,232 schools in Georgia.

Unfortunately, cheating does happen. The 1990s saw a rash of cases where state and school officials masked underperformance of low-income or minority students or students with disabilities by excluding or hiding their test results. No Child Left Behind helped address this problem by requiring transparency around achievement gaps, but it prompted another form of cheating by setting rigid pass/fail targets based on test scores that failed to measure progress. Several states, including my home state of Illinois, simply lowered their standards to claim “better” test scores as success—essentially lying to children and parents. Now as NCLB’s deadline for 100-percent proficiency approaches and performance goals grow steeper, we learn of egregious, systemic cheating in Atlanta and suspected cheating elsewhere.

Each of these instances is rooted in the pernicious notion that by resisting accountability, you can avoid it.

To deny the importance of regular, comprehensive measurement of student growth and academic progress because of cheating is to embrace that twisted ethos, sending exactly the wrong message to students.

Competing in a global economy is the ultimate high-stakes test for American students, and there are no shortcuts to success. Closing our eyes to the knowledge requirements of a 21st century economy will not make them go away.

At the same time, it is important to remember that measuring student growth is a means to an end, and not an end in itself. Poorly designed tests do not advance the goal of providing every American child a high-quality, well-rounded education. They also don’t tell you very much about the effectiveness of teachers. That’s why the Department of Education has put $350 million toward developing a new generation of assessments, and why we support evaluations based on multiple measures—including principal observation, peer review, classroom work, student and parent feedback, and other locally developed measures.

Staying Competitive Through Education: The President and American Business Leaders Announce New Commitments

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

President Barack Obama hosts an education roundtable in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with business leaders and America’s Promise Alliance Chair Alma Powell, center, and Founding Chair General Colin Powell, left, to discuss what the business community can do to ensure we have a skilled, educated and competitive US workforce, July 18, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama hosts an education roundtable in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with business leaders and America’s Promise Alliance Chair Alma Powell, center, and Founding Chair General Colin Powell, left, to discuss what the business community can do to ensure we have a skilled, educated and competitive US workforce, July 18, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

On July 18th, the President hosted an education roundtable with key leaders in both the private and public sectors to discuss ways we can ensure a competitive American workforce. The attendees, including business leaders, Secretary Duncan, Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes, and General Colin and Mrs. Alma Powell of the America’s Promise Alliance, talked about expanding strong industry-led partnerships that are working to transform the American education system.

The President’s meeting with America’s CEOs builds on his continued focus on addressing the pressing needs of educating our children:

“A world-class education is the single most important factor in determining not just whether our kids can compete for the best jobs but whether America can outcompete countries around the world. America’s business leaders understand that when it comes to education, we need to up our game. That’s why were working together to put an outstanding education within reach for every child.”

The private sector is responding to the President’s challenge with more than financial support: Corporations have made commitments that take advantage of their areas of expertise and the skills of their employees. These undertakings include programs like Change the Equation, which focuses on corporate investment in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, Skills for America’s Future with its support of business partnerships with community colleges, and the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

President Barack Obama hosts an education roundtable in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with business leaders, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and America’s Promise Alliance Chair Alma Powell and Founding Chair General Colin Powell to discuss what the business community can do to ensure we have a skilled, educated and competitive US workforce, July 18, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama hosts an education roundtable in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with business leaders, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and America’s Promise Alliance Chair Alma Powell and Founding Chair General Colin Powell to discuss what the business community can do to ensure we have a skilled, educated and competitive US workforce, July 18, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Four major commitments are being announced today:

1) Community Engagement and Investment to Transform the Nation’s Lowest-Performing Schools: America’s Promise Alliance Grad Nation Community Impact Fund will raise $50 million to support the goal of ending the dropout crisis and prepare young people for college and career. The first planning grants from this social venture fund will be awarded in the fall to communities that demonstrate a commitment to local action aligned with the goals of the Grad Nation Campaign, including student supports for our most vulnerable young people.  Applicants will be communities with a low-performing school and a willingness and capacity to build a multi-sector, collaborative approach that includes partnerships with the business community and local school system, and the capacity to raise matching funds to promote local investment to sustain this work.

2) Expanding Opportunities for Students to Prepare for Livable Wage Jobs: Bank of America will announce a $50 million pledge to education over the next 3 years, launching this goal through $4.5 million in grants. The investment will support programs that bridge the achievement gap to post-secondary education completion and connect the underserved and unemployed, as well as returning veterans, and individuals with disabilities, to workforce success in high-growth sectors, in particular through community colleges.  Recognizing the need for knowledgeable and skilled workers to compete in the global economy, Bank of America is investing in education as part of its comprehensive lending, investing and volunteer activities aimed at strengthening the economic and social health of communities.

3) Research and Development for Next Generation Learning Models and Resources for Students and Teachers: Building on its history of commitment to education and recent $25 million STEM Scholarship grant program in Washington State, Microsoft Education is announcing a new $15M investment in research and development for immersive learning technologies including game based instruction and the creation of a lifelong learning digital archive. Through the creation of these innovative solutions, the disengaged can become passionate problem solvers and the struggling student can be offered other pathways to success.  Rooted in this investment is the understanding that technical innovation alone will not help. Therefore, over the next 3 years, Microsoft is committing to train over 150 thousand educators and leaders and provide access to professional learning communities and training to every teacher in the United States through the new Partners in Learning Network.

4) Supporting a Statewide Focus on Education System Redesign: In the past four years, the Nike School Innovation Fund(NSIF) has provided $7 million in innovation grants and thousands of volunteer hours by senior Nike leaders and other employees to support students, teachers and principals in three Oregon public school districts. The Fund is announcing a new commitment as a primary partner of Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and his initiative to help make the state’s entire education system more nimble, innovative and supportive of the key grades of 9 to 12. With this news, Nike’s commitment to strengthening education in Oregon totals $10 million. The NSIF will now provide a year of funding, expertise and policy guidance that is expected to serve as a model for the Governor’s larger statewide education transformation plan.

The President is dedicated to keeping America’s workforce competitive, an achievement that can only be reached through addressing the pressing needs of American education. This week’s education roundtable is a clear example of the President’s dedication, and these new commitments are evidence that America’s business leaders share his concern and his belief that change is possible.

Duncan: “Fix No Child Left Behind – Now”

Another school year is coming to a close, and schools across the country are still operating under the restrictive rules of No Child Left Behind. Unless the law is changed, an overwhelming number of schools in the country may soon be mislabeled as failing. This will trigger impractical and ineffective sanctions. It’s confusing to students and parents and demoralizing for teachers and principals.

The Obama Administration continues to work closely with Congress to reauthorize NCLB, but with the new school year just months away, ED is beginning to investigate how to address NCLB’s problems through regulatory flexibility, if necessary.

Secretary Duncan said that regulatory flexibility will not replace comprehensive reform, or give states and districts a pass from accountability. Instead, the goal is to “unleash energy at the local level even as Congress works to rewrite the law, giving states, districts and schools the flexibility they need to raise standards, boost quality, and improve our lowest-performing schools.”

In today’s Politico, Secretary Duncan penned an op-ed explaining the importance of reauthorizing NCLB:

Everyone responsible for educating children for the knowledge economy of the 21st century agrees that America’s federal education law is in dire need of reform. Teachers, parents, school leaders, governors, members of Congress and the Education Department have all called for an overhaul of the No Child Left Behind Act.

I commend Congress for the hard work under way on reauthorizing NCLB, now known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers. Senate and House leaders should continue their work toward a bipartisan reauthorization bill by the start of the school year. While we don’t expect agreement on all of the details, there is real goodwill and support for reauthorizing ESEA and virtually no one — inside or outside government — is defending the status quo.

I remain hopeful and confident that Congress will soon take action to strengthen and upgrade the nation’s education law. But while Congress works, state and local school districts are buckling under the law’s goals and mandates. Despite our shared sentiment for reform and the Obama administration’s long-standing proposal to reshape NCLB, the law remains in place, four years after it was due for reauthorization. Our children get only one shot at an education. They cannot wait any longer for reform.

For this reason, our administration will develop a plan that trades regulatory flexibility for reform. If Congress does not complete work on reauthorization soon, we will be prepared with a process that will enable schools to move ahead with reform in the fall. States, districts and schools need the freedom to implement high standards, strengthen the quality of their teachers and school leaders and embrace a more flexible, fair and focused system of accountability. Many members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, have voiced support for these nonpartisan goals.

The stakes are high. As it currently exists, NCLB is creating a slow-motion educational train wreck for children, parents and teachers. Under the law, an overwhelming number of schools in the country may soon be labeled as “failing,” eventually triggering impractical and ineffective sanctions.

To avoid these sanctions, many states have lowered academic standards instead of making them more rigorous. The law also makes no distinction between a high-performing school with one or two subgroups underperforming and a low-performing school where everyone is struggling. As a result, states and districts are spending billions of dollars each year on one-size-fits-all mandates dictated from Washington rather than on locally tailored solutions that effectively reach the students most at risk and close achievement gaps.

Under the umbrella of the Learning First Alliance, 16 national organizations representing tens of thousands of local administrators and school board members as well as millions of teachers are seeking flexibility from NCLB’s deadlines and mandates. Separately, a number of state education chiefs have echoed the call for flexibility tied to education reform.

Louisiana, for example, is seeking flexibility to put in place a comprehensive reform plan, as is Tennessee, a winner of the administration’s key reform program, Race to the Top. Nine other states are seeking flexibility from the law, while others have threatened to simply ignore the NCLB deadlines.

Meanwhile, many states are moving forward with reform, voluntarily adopting higher standards and collaborating on a new generation of assessments. They are developing new systems of evaluating and supporting teachers, building comprehensive data systems to improve teaching and to track student gains and transforming chronically low-performing schools — including the high schools that produce a disproportionate share of America’s dropouts.

The purpose of our administration’s plan is not to give states and districts a reprieve from accountability but, rather, to unleash energy for reform at the local level even as Congress works to rewrite the law. It’s a meaningful step to help educators, parents and community leaders transition from today’s stifling, top-down approach toward a climate of locally designed innovation and excellence.

Fifteen months have passed since the administration unveiled its blueprint to reform NCLB. On two separate occasions, President Barack Obama has convened House and Senate leaders at the White House to help spur action. I’ve held countless bipartisan meetings across Capitol Hill. The president reissued the call for reform in March.

More and more people recognize education is the game-changer in the global economy. A world-class education system is the engine of economic growth, innovation, competitiveness and job creation. Our children, our teachers and our parents deserve a world-class education — not some day, but today.

NCLB: ‘Getting in the Way of Where We Need to Go’

Secretary Duncan emphasized once again that we need to fix NCLB in real time, not Washington time.

The current law doesn’t reward schools that are making significant progress and prescribes interventions based on absolute test scores, the Secretary said last Friday at a lunchtime question and answer session during the Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network annual conference.

Measuring growth and gains needs to be the focus of any accountability system, he said in response to a question from YEO Network member and Georgia State Representative Alisha Thomas Morgan.

The Secretary explained that No Child Left Behind is an impediment which results in too many schools being labeled as failures, “and is getting in the way of where we need to go.”

In March of 2010, President Obama released the administration’s proposal to fix NCLB, and earlier this year he called on Congress to fix NCLB before the next school year begins. Click here to read A Blueprint for Reform.

Now’s the Time to Act on NCLB


Fixing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) “can’t be done in Washington time. It has to be in real people’s time,” said Secretary Duncan on Tuesday at Dayton’s Bluff Achievement Plus elementary school in St. Paul, Minn.

Duncan, joined at the school by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), was responding to a growing chorus of voices saying that NCLB should be fixed before the start of the upcoming school year. “We need Congress to work with a much greater sense of urgency,” the Secretary noted.

Duncan explained that NCLB is too punitive as well as too loose on goals and too tight on how schools can succeed. The Secretary repeated that the reauthorized law should allow creativity to flourish at the local level. “We won’t dictate curriculum from Washington,” he said. “We need to get out of the way.”

For more information on the Obama Administration’s proposal to fix NCLB, which is formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, read “A Blueprint for Reform” which President Obama released in March of 2010.