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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson October 9, 2011

Major overhauls of "No Child" under way

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to reform the No Child Left Behind law, the signature education program proposed by President George W. Bush and passed in 2002.

His promise included three specific parts. We"ll take them in order:

Funding the law. Congress has the primary responsibility for funding No Child Left Behind. Obama has proposed increasing funding for K-12 education in his budgets for both fiscal year 2011and fiscal year 2012, but Congress did not pass a fiscal year 2011 budget and has not passed one for fiscal 2012 either. The continuing resolutionthat enacted in the spring of 2011 either held constant or provided a small increase to most of NCLB"s formula-funded funded programs.

Improving the assessments of student progress. Neither the president nor the federal government makes decisions about tests directly -- the assessments are chosen by each state. However, the administration has encouraged states to develop a new generation of tests through $330 million in federal grants.

In September 2010, the Education Depatment awarded two grants under the auspices of the Race to the Top program. The new-generation tests are supposed to be aligned to higher standards developed by governors and chief state school officers and which have been adopted by 36 states. The tests are supposed to measure students' knowledge of mathematics and English language arts from third grade through high school.

The new tests are now in development, with implementation scheduled for 2014 and 2015.

Making sure the law supports schools that need improvement, rather than punishing them. In September 2011, the administration announced a planto waive some of the law"s accountability provisions in exchange for state efforts to develop new accountability systems.

The plan requires states to set ambitious, but achievable goals, for student achievement; to determine whether all schools are meeting those goals for students overall and for each group of students; and to take meaningful action to improve their lowest performing schools and those with the biggest achievement gaps.

"Keep in mind, the change we"re making is not lowering standards; we"re saying we"re going to give you more flexibility to meet high standards," Obama said in announcing the plan on Sept. 23, 2011. "We"re going to let states, schools and teachers come up with innovative ways to give our children the skills they need to compete for the jobs of the future. Because what works in Rhode Island may not be the same thing that works in Tennessee -– but every student should have the same opportunity to learn and grow, no matter what state they live in."

The first deadline for state applications isn"t until Nov. 14, 2011, so it remains to be seen what the states will propose. The requests will go through a formal evaluation process before they can be approved.

The final results for much that Obama promised won"t be known for years to come, most likely after Obama"s first term is complete. However, for all three parts of this promise, the administration has taken significant steps, in one case backed by hundreds of millions of dollars. We rate it a Promise Kept. 

Our Sources

By Ian Jannetta November 9, 2009

Planning underway for reforms

Democrats have never been very happy with No Child Left Behind, the signature education program from President George W. Bush that passed in 2002. Their biggest complaint was that Bush forced states to follow the law but never provided money for the effort.

As a candidate, Barack Obama vowed to provide that money and "improve NCLB's accountability system so that we are supporting schools that need improvement, rather than punishing them."

The program was created as part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which gives federal money to public schools. The act has to be reauthorized every five years. The 2002 authorization expired in 2007 and Congress has been funding No Child Left Behind through extensions ever since.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has indicated that reforming No Child Left Behind through the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is a priority of the Obama administration. He has visited dozens of schools on a "Listening and Learning Tour" to seek input from educators on how to best improve the law, and he shared some of his ideas in public remarks on Sept. 24, 2009.

Proposed improvements outlined by Duncan echo promises made by Obama during the campaign, like better tests to track student progress and a reformed system to identify and help struggling schools.

A recently announced federal program, "Race to the Top," makes $4.35 billion in stimulus funds available to states in the form of competitive grants. To be eligible to recieve money from the program, states must make proposals to, among other things, set higher standards for student achievement and improve testing to measure progress, goals from Obama's education plan as a candidate.

As for the promise to reform No Child Left Behind, that will take more time. "Over the coming months the administration will be developing its proposal for reauthorization," Duncan said in his September remarks.

So the reforms are still in the formative stages. But there's evidence of progress, so we rate this promise In the Works.

Our Sources

U.S. Department of Education, Reathorization of ESEA: Why We Can't Wait, accessed Nov. 6, 2009

Organizing for America, A New Vision for 21st Century Education, accessed Nov. 5, 2009

The White House, Race to the Top, accessed Nov. 6, 2005, No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, accessed Nov. 6, 2009

New America Foundation, No Child Left Behind Funding, accessed Nov. 6, 2009

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