WASHINGTON – President Bush said Tuesday that he's open to new ideas for changing the "No Child Left Behind" education law, but will not accept watered-down standards or rollbacks in accountability.
The president and lawmakers in both parties want changes to the five-year-old law — a key piece of his domestic policy legacy, which faces a tough renewal fight in Congress.
"There can be no compromise on the basic principle: Every child must learn to read and do math at, or above, grade level," he said in a statement from the Rose Garden that was directed at Congress and critics of the law. "And there can be no compromise on the need to hold schools accountable to making sure we achieve that goal."
The law requires annual math and reading tests in grades three through eight and once in high school. Schools that miss benchmarks face increasingly tough consequences, such as having to replace their curriculum, teachers or principals.
The latest results of the nation's report card from the National Assessment of Educational Progress are being held by the White House but aides say the results show across-the board improvements in fourth and eight grader reading and math, with African American and Hispanic students posting all-time highs.
Earlier, Bush, first lady Laura Bush and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings met with civil rights leaders, educators and advocates for minority and disadvantaged students.
Almost everyone agrees the law should be changed to encourage schools to measure individual student progress over time instead of using snapshot comparisons of certain grade levels.
There also is broad agreement that the law should be changed so that schools that miss progress goals by a little don't face the same consequences as schools that miss them by a lot.
There are, however, deep divisions over some proposed changes, including merit pay for teachers and whether schools should be judged based on test scores in subjects other than reading and math.
Opponents to some of the legislative proposals come from the conservative and liberal wings of Congress.
National Urban League President Marc Morial, who was in the meeting with Bush, said the law hasn't been funded even to the levels authorized in the original legislation. But he and others did not lay the blame entirely at Bush's feet.
"Both Congress and the president should make the collective funding of this act a priority," Morial said.
Morial said he and others also talked to Bush about addressing the disparity in the amount of money committed to educating children in different parts of the country, and about strengthening a provision in the law calling for after-school services to help children who fall behind.
Bush listed several ways for enhancing the law:
—Give local leaders more flexibility and resources;
—Offer other educational options to families of children stuck in low-performing schools;
—Increase access to tutoring programs;
—Reward good teachers who improve student achievement in low-income schools;
—Expand access to advanced placement courses;
—And, improve math and science instruction.
The president noted national test results released last month that showed elementary and middle schoolers posting across-the-board gains in math and more modest improvements in reading. But he also noted that nearly half of Hispanic and black students still do not graduate from high school on time.