No Child Left Behind Overhaul: Five Key Things That Would Change

On Saturday, the Obama administration released its blueprint for overhauling the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act. US lawmakers are to consider the blueprint – and make their own revisions – as part of a reauthorization process for the education law.

Although the administration’s proposals would change many things about No Child Left Behind, one central component would remain: annual tests in reading and math for students.

On the other hand, one component that is likely to go away is the very name “No Child Left Behind.” Administration officials have indicated that the law should take on a new name, though this point wasn’t brought out in the blueprint.

Beyond the likely name revision, here are five key changes that the Obama administration is proposing:

The goal of student proficiency in reading and math by 2014 would change to a standard of “college and career readiness” for students by 2020. As 2014 has approached, it’s become clear that the proficiency goal won’t be reached in that time frame. With the new goal, administration officials are focusing less on grade-level attainment and more on the skills that students will need for school or work after high school.

In a development related to this goal, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA) have drafted a set of “common core” academic standards for US students.

• Although reading and math tests would remain in the administration’s proposal, schools could also include student performance in other subjects as part of overall measurements of progress. Critics say that the current education law has narrowed the curriculum for students: Many teachers zero in on math and reading at the expense of other subjects to help students prepare for the required tests.

Now, administration officials are encouraging a broader outlook. “Students need a well-rounded education,” the blueprint declares, and it cites disciplines including history, civics, foreign languages, and the arts.

• Evaluations of schools would shift, being less punitive and offering more rewards. A common complaint of No Child Left Behind is that it labels too many schools as simply failing. The new proposal sets forth a multitiered system: One tier would identify the 5 percent of schools struggling the most in each state, while other tiers would apply to schools facing less-severe challenges. Different remedies are outlined for different tiers in the blueprint.

And the proposal outlines opportunities for rewards. “The schools, districts, and states that are successful in reaching performance targets … will be recognized,” the blueprint reads. “Rewards may include financial rewards for the staff and students ….”

• More federal funding would be switched from formula-based allocations to competitive grants. The new system would build on the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, which has offered stimulus money to states that both apply for the education funds in a competition and demonstrate a reform-oriented approach. That setup has encouraged states to adopt more reforms promoted by the US Education Department.

The Obama administration’s budget for 2011 would increase competitive funding by $3 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal.

• Schools that miss certain targets would not be required by the federal government to provide students with tutoring or with the option to transfer. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has objected to such requirements in No Child Left Behind, according to Education Week.

But this proposed change could meet with resistance from Congress, especially Republicans. Education Week quotes Alexa Marrero, a spokeswoman for Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee: “It’s disappointing to see [tutoring] and school choice removed from the parental toolbox, particularly because it appears the focus is shifting to the needs of schools rather than the needs of students.”