Obama looks to reward rather than punish schools

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ATLANTA (AP) — President Barack Obama on Saturday unveiled his plan to improve the U.S. educational system by rewarding schools that make progress rather than punishing those that don’t, as he looks to help American students make up for academic ground lost against youngsters in other countries.

Obama wants to overhaul the 2002 education law championed by former President George W. Bush. Under Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” law, the system has tagged more than a third of schools as failing and created a hodgepodge of sometimes weak academic standards among states.

Under Obama’s plan, education officials would move away from punishing schools that don’t meet benchmarks and focus on rewarding schools for progress, particularly with poor and minority students.

The proposed changes call for states to adopt standards that ensure students are ready for college or a career rather than grade-level proficiency — the focus of the current law.

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“Unless we take action — unless we step up — there are countless children who will never realize their full talent and potential,” Obama said during a video address on Saturday. “I don’t accept that future for them. And I don’t accept that future for the United States of America.”

Obama intends to send a rewrite to Congress on Monday of the law.

The blueprint also would allow states to use subjects other than reading and mathematics as part of their measurements for meeting federal goals, pleasing many education groups that have said No Child Left Behind encouraged teachers not to focus on history, art, science, social studies and other important subjects.

And, for the first time in 45 years, the White House is proposing a $4 billion increase in federal education spending, most of which would go to increase the competition among states for grant money and move away from formula-based funding.

The blueprint goes before the House Education and Labor Committee on Wednesday as Obama pushes Congress to reauthorize the education law this year, a time-consuming task that some observers say will be difficult. Committee Chairman George Miller, a Democrat, praised Obama’s plan.

“This blueprint lays the right markers to help us reset the bar for our students and the nation,” Miller said in a prepared statement.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said the name No Child Left Behind will be dropped because it is associated with a harsh law that punishes schools for not reaching benchmarks even if they’ve made big gains. He said the administration will work with Congress to come up with a new name.

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