Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said if Congress does not reauthorize and amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—popularly known as No Child Left Behind—he will take actions to amend the law himself.
A clause in the law permits the secretary of education to waive certain parts of the act—a power Duncan said he would consider use if states agree to enact reforms.
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ESEA was up for renewal and an overhaul in 2007, but Congress opted to extend the law on a year-to-year basis. The law, proposed by then-President George W. Bush and passed in 2001, set a goal of making all children "proficient" in reading and math by 2014. In March, Duncan told Congress the law was "broken," and said that up to 82 percent of all public schools could miss targets set by No Child Left Behind.
President Obama has also asked Congress to revise the bill, saying the benchmarks it set don't accurately measure students' progress. "We know that four out of five schools in this country aren't failing," he said at a March appearance at a Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Va. "So what we're doing to measure success and failure is out of line."
Duncan says he won't wait for Congress to revise the act to make widespread changes in education. "Principals, superintendents, and children cannot wait forever for the legislative process to work itself out," he said during a conference call. "As it exists now, No Child Left Behind is creating a slow-motion train wreck for children, parents, and teachers."
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Given Duncan's past statements, it's likely he would reduce or eliminate sanctions for schools that didn't meet the reading and math proficiency benchmark. Duncan did not specifically say what reforms he would want states to enact or what parts of the law he would waive, although he made it clear that he would prefer to not use his waiver power.
"This is Plan B," he told reporters. "Plan A is to have Congress move. If that doesn't happen, we can't sit here and do nothing."