New challenges for Obama’s education agenda in the face of a G.O.P.-led House

For two years, backed by a friendly Congress and flush with federal stimulus money, President Obama’s administration enjoyed a relatively obstacle-free path for its education agenda, the focus of which is the $4 billion Race to the Top grant program. But with Republican deficit hawks taking control of the House next month, Education Secretary Arne Duncan will no longer have billions of dollars to use at his discretion, reports the New York Times. The administration is also having to recalibrate its goals for working with Congress to overhaul the main federal law on public schools. Fortunately for the administration, its ambitions for the law, the Bush-era No Child Left Behind effort, are shared by Representative John Kline, a Minnesota Republican who will be the chairman of the House education committee.

“It doesn’t matter who I’m talking to–everybody has complaints about N.C.L.B.,” said Mr. Kline, who would oversee any revision of the law by the House. “So we’d love to fix it.”

Mr. Kline and Mr. Duncan said in separate interviews that they had a good working relationship, and they appeared to agree on some major changes to the law, like overhauling its school accountability system. Because it requires every student to be proficient in math and reading by 2014, the system has already labeled thousands of schools as failing, often because disabled students or recent immigrants have been unable to pass state tests.

“Unless we change the law, it’ll label every school in the country a failure, even though there are lots of phenomenal schools out there,” Mr. Duncan said.

Mr. Kline echoed those concerns. “We’ve got a law that’s out there affecting schools in a negative way,” he said. “So absolutely, the law’s accountability system will have to change.”

Mr. Kline said he hoped to foster bipartisan cooperation. “Let me hasten to say that that doesn’t mean we won’t disagree–perhaps on many things,” he said. “But if you don’t work together, you won’t get a product that’s acceptable to the American people.”

Dozens of major education groups representing teachers, principals, superintendents, school boards, businesses and civil rights groups are urging Congress and the Obama administration to rewrite the law…

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