Stakeholders support an NCLB overhaul to reflect realistic goals for schools.

Less than a day after President Obama asked Congress to overhaul No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in his Jan. 25 State of the Union address, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators said they would work together to revamp the nation’s education law—and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said he hopes to have a bill on Obama’s desk by the end of the summer.

“Last night, President Obama clearly stated his desire to help education and his desire to fix No Child Left Behind,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters in a Jan. 26 phone conference. “No one likes how No Child Left Behind labels schools as failures even when they are making significant gains.”

Duncan was joined on the call by Harkin, who is chairman of the Senate education committee; Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., ranking minority member of the committee; Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.; and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

In overhauling NCLB, Duncan said the focus should be on rewarding schools that have made large improvements rather than penalizing them for still not reaching a higher standard.

Alexander, himself a former education secretary under President George H.W. Bush, said the problem lies with imposing federal regulations instead of allowing states to control their own education systems.

“Federal doesn’t equal national. For example, I believe in national standards on education, but I don’t believe Washington ought to set them,” said Alexander, adding that Duncan has worked hard to encourage states to create their own common standards.  “I don’t want us to become a national school board.”

Duncan said NCLB is far too rigid to allow states to enact their own policies.

“Washington shouldn’t provide one-size-fits-all mandates. We need a law that provides most schools with flexibility to decide how to improve and accelerate student achievement,” he said.

Without this flexibility, many school stakeholders say, too many schools are left facing sanctions for not reaching standards that they don’t have the resources to reach in the first place.