Education Secretary Arne Duncan told Congress today that his department estimates that 82 percent of America's schools could fail to meet education goals set by No Child Left Behind this year. Duncan urged Congress to fix the law before the next school year begins so that the schools and students most at risk get the help they need.
“No Child Left Behind is broken and we need to fix it now,” said Duncan during testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
“This law has created dozens of ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed. We should get out of the business of labeling schools as failures and create a new law that is fair and flexible, and focused on the schools and students most at risk,” Duncan continued.
No Child Left Behind requires all U.S. public schools to meet annual targets — called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) — aimed at making all students 100 percent proficient in reading or language arts and math by 2014.
Duncan credits NCLB for highlighting achievement gaps among poor and minority students, students with disabilities, English Learners, and their peers, saying, "Subgroup accountability has completely changed the national conversation. We can no longer look the other way as some groups of students languish while others thrive. The law reflects our fundamental aspiration that every single student can learn, achieve and succeed."
Duncan pointed out, however, that current federal law requires states and districts to implement the same set of interventions in every school that is not meeting AYP, regardless of the individual needs and circumstances of those schools.
Duncan explained that, in generating the estimate, the Department assumed that all schools in the country would improve at the rate of the top quartile. Under this assumption, and factoring in four years of data, the percentage of schools that are not meeting AYP could rise from 37 percent up to 82 percent.
"Even under these assumptions, 82 percent of America's schools could be labeled ‘failing’ and, over time, the required remedies for all of them are the same — which means we will really fail to serve the students in greatest need,” said Duncan.
The Obama administration’s proposed blueprint for reforming No Child Left Behind recognizes and rewards high-poverty schools and districts that show improvement based on progress and growth. States and districts would have to identify and intervene in schools that persistently fail to close gaps. For schools making more modest gains, states and districts would have more flexibility to determine improvement and support options.
“Our proposal will offer schools and districts much more flexibility in addressing achievement gaps, but we will impose a much tighter definition of success,” said Duncan. “Simply stated, if schools boost overall proficiency but leave one subgroup behind — that is not good enough. They need a plan that ensures that every child is being served.”