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Published: Monday, 2/8/2010

Abandoning a mandate

THE No Child Left Behind program, inherited from the Bush administration, routinely draws criticism across the political spectrum. So it's not surprising to see hopeful responses to President Obama's initiatives for the nation's classrooms that came in his 2011 budget proposal.

Translating that hope into revisions of the law won't be easy. But the fact that teachers unions and organizations of school board members and administrators are anxious for change is a good sign.

Mr. Obama wants to abandon the vilified Adequate Yearly Progress standard, which has been criticized for its one-size-fits-all approach to judging schools, and create a new way to gauge performance. He wants a system that would recognize schools that are succeeding and provide additional dollars to help those that are not.

The administration has not made clear what would take the current system's place, but the goals are expected to model those included in the President's Race to the Top initiative - adopting common standards for schools, improving the quality of teaching, linking teacher evaluations to student achievement, and developing better methods to assess students.

When U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan met recently with the National School Boards Association, he said the goal is for students to graduate from high school prepared for college or careers. He would like to see the rate of college graduation go up to 60 percent from 40 percent.

It's difficult to find anything objectionable in such valued but vague goals, which may account for the positive response to Mr. Obama's ideas. Harder to predict is what the reaction will be when details are fleshed out.

That should come soon. Because nearly everybody has problems with No Child Left Behind, it should be possible to create what ought to be - a plan that pushes students, teachers, and principals to do better and supports the effort with real dollars.

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