Obama urges school reform

TUESDAY, FEB. 23, 2010

Proposal would tie aid to new standards

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama wants to rewrite federal education law by sending aid for poor students only to states that adopt new standards to prepare high school graduates for college or a career.

States that fail to raise the bar could lose their share of federal funding, though it’s unlikely that would happen. Administration officials say they expect states will comply to remain eligible for the federal money.

Obama’s proposal, announced Monday, would require a change in the nation’s main elementary and secondary education law, which became known as the No Child Left Behind Act during the Bush administration. The law is up for renewal. Congress so far hasn’t been able to generate a consensus to overhaul it, though key lawmakers said recently they were working on a bill.

Obama wants to expand the federal government’s role in education, which traditionally is a state and local responsibility. His approach has been to use the federal purse as leverage to encourage states to adopt his ideas.

Many schools count on a key source of federal aid, known as Title I, to help disadvantaged students – $14.5 billion this budget year. Under Obama’s proposal, to qualify for that money, states would have to adopt and certify that they have “college- and career-ready standards in reading and mathematics.” The deadline for setting the new standards is 2014.

Obama wants to encourage states to enact education standards that the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Schools Officers are developing. All states but Alaska and Texas have endorsed the effort; Kentucky adopted the standards earlier this month.

Obama said U.S. students continue to trail in such areas as math and science. Eighth-graders are ninth in the world in math and 11th in science, he said.

Some states “have upped their game,” the president said, citing Massachusetts for having eighth-graders now tied for first in science around the world. But other states have gone the opposite route, with 11 lowering their math standards.

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