Obama with art students at Kenmore Middle school (WH)The audience assembled at an arts-centered middle school in Virginia cheered wildly today as President Obama called for a rewrite of the nation’s education policy known as No Child Left Behind.

He told the group at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington that he knew it wouldn’t be easy, but the task will be informed by nearly a decade of lessons from the policy’s successes and failures.

“It’s not enough to leave ‘No Child Behind’. We need to help every child get ahead.” (Photo: Art students present their work at Kenmore Middle school)

Obama spoke at length about the problems that need to be addressed if our education system is going to help us win the future by getting America back to the front of the pack in graduation rates and career-readiness.

“The best jobs program out there is a good education,” Obama told students, faculty and officials. “The best economic policy is one that produces more college graduates.”

The President’s priorities and key changes from No Child Left Behind were laid in the White House fact sheet put out this morning — here’s the topline:

* A fair accountability system that is based on high standards and is informed by sophisticated assessments that measure individual student growth — not only test scores.
* A flexible system that empowers principals and teachers, and supports reform and innovation at the state and local level;
* And a system focused on the schools and the students most at risk — that targets resources to persistently low-performing schools and ensures the most effective teachers serve students most in need.

”Last week we got a reminder of why it’s so critical that we reform this law.  According to new estimates, under the system No Child Left Behind put in place, more than 80 percent of our schools may be labeled as failing — four out of five schools… Our impulse is to either be outraged that the numbers are so high, or skeptical that they’re even true.” He added, “Skepticism is somewhat justified. We know that four out of five schools in this country aren’t failing. So what we’re doing to measure success and failure is out of line.”

“In fact, the list of supposedly failing schools includes schools that are actually making extraordinary progress — including Kenmore.  So, yes, we’ve still got more work to do here at this school to close the achievement gap. We’ve got to make sure that every student is on track. But, I mean, we can see here at Kenmore — Kenmore is thriving. You guys are doing great. You’ve got more work to do, but you’re doing fine.”

“So first we’re going to have to fix how schools are labeled and identified. But we’ve got to do more than that. In recent years, 15 states have actually lowered their standards to make it easier for their kids to meet the targets set by No Child Left Behind… That makes no sense.”

“So instead of measuring students based on whether they’re above or below an arbitrary bar, we need to set better standards to make sure our students are meeting one clear goal –- they’re graduating ready for college and ready for a career.  That’s the goal we need to set.”

On ‘teaching to the test’, he said, “We do need to know whether they’re not only mastering reading, math, and science, but also developing the kinds of skills, like critical thinking and creativity and collaboration that I just saw on display with the students that I met here.  Those are skills they’re going to need for the rest of their lives — not just to be good workers, but to be good citizens.”

(READ the rest of the speech on WhiteHouse.gov, and read the report at CBS News)

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