WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is calling on Congress to make changes to the No Child Left Behind law, including placing more emphasis on science and giving poor students private school vouchers.
The Education Department released a detailed plan Wednesday morning, the day after the president talked of improving the law during his State of the Union speech.
The plan would require states to develop standards and tests linked to what high school graduates should know and be able to do when they go to college or go to work.
"Students — particularly in the later grades — must be challenged to succeed, whether they are entering college or the highly competitive marketplace," Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said in a statement Wednesday.
The proposal also would make it easier for failing schools to be converted into charter schools, even if that means overriding state-imposed limits on charters. The proposal also would enable school administrators, in some circumstances, to ignore provisions of union contracts linked to staffing.
The five-year-old law seeks to ensure that all children can read and do math at grade level by 2014, which has placed unprecedented demands on schools. They have been required to step up testing, raise teacher quality and place more attention on the achievements of minority children.
Schools that fail to meet progress goals face consequences, such as having to spend money on tutoring or being forced to overhaul their staffs.
The law is set for renewal this year. The changes being proposed that the White House unveiled Tuesday include:
—Holding schools accountable for science scores, something not currently in the law.
—Requiring states to publish a report card showing how students do on state tests compared to a rigorous national test. That could put pressure on states to strengthen their assessments and standards.
—Making tutoring more widely available.
—Giving schools more flexibility in meeting annual progress goals, such as giving those that make significant strides but fall short of benchmarks credit for the progress they did make.
One change showcased by the White House a few hours before President Bush gave his State of the Union speech would give poor students private school vouchers, something that is unlikely to win approval from the Democratic-controlled Congress.
California Democratic Rep. George Miller, who chairs the House committee overseeing education, called the initiative a "failed idea" that would be rejected.
The administration tried but was unable to include a voucher program in the No Child Left Behind law when it was first passed by Congress five years ago.
White House officials say a private school voucher program makes sense for students in schools that are consistently failing to meet progress goals under the No Child Left Behind law.
"This is not for every kid in America," White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joel Kaplan said. "This is for those kids who are trapped in the absolute worst schools that just don't seem to be capable, or willing, to make the changes necessary to serve those students well."