U.S Secretary of Education Arne Duncan shared plans during a Nashville visit Wednesday for sweeping changes to the federal No Child Left Behind Law, outlining President Obama’s proposal for a new accountability system for public schools based on measuring “student growth.”
Duncan, the keynote speaker at the annual Exceptional Children’s Convention & Expo held this week at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel & Convention Center, said the new law should be “fair, flexible and focused on the right goals,” with the main objective to make sure all students nationwide graduate high school.
Duncan, who previously served as superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, said the one thing the current No Child Left Behind law does right is provide accountability for students representing all subgroups and demographics.
The system launched by President George W. Bush, he said, fails to measure growth.
“If students start two or three grade levels behind and, through excellent teaching and strong support, progress so much that at the end of the year reach one grade level behind, their teacher and school historically had been labeled failing instead of a success,” Duncan said. “That is wrong, inaccurate and demoralizing.”
With Obama’s new plan, Duncan said students who make large gains in learning would be rewarded.
“Under NCLB, there’s about 50 ways to fail and very few ways to succeed,” Duncan said. “That has to change.”
Still, he said, schools that have chronically low performance and fail to reach achievement gaps would be required to adopt “far-reaching steps” under the new plan.
Addressing hundreds of special education teachers at the Gaylord ballroom, Duncan acknowledged that the six million students across the nation with disabilities have seen progress in terms of improving equality and inclusiveness in the classroom, but said there’s still much work to be done.
Over the years, he said, graduation rates, postsecondary school enrollment rates and employment rates among special ed students have increased, but added they are all still far too low.
“We haven’t fulfilled the promise of education for students with disabilities,” he said.