In a speech today at an elementary school in Washington, D.C., Education Secretary Arne Duncan laid out the president's position as the nation's largest federal education law moves on a "fast track" toward reauthorization.
According to his prepared remarks, Duncan called the 13-year-old No Child Left Behind law "tired" and "prescriptive." Nevertheless, he declared that the central requirement of No Child Left Behind should stand: annual, mandated statewide assessments in grades 3-8 plus once in high school.
Some Republicans in Congress have been discussing the idea of reducing or eliminating testing requirements.
In his speech Duncan invoked famous phrases used by both President Obama and President George W. Bush, the latter of whom introduced those requirements.
"This country can't afford to replace 'the fierce urgency of now,' " he said, "with the soft bigotry of, 'It's optional.' "
Duncan acknowledged that high-stakes accountability testing is one of the "hardest topics" in the nation's education debate. He called, as he has previously, for action on the state and district level to cut back on "redundant" and "unnecessary" additional tests.
He also said the federal government will request funding to improve the quality of tests, beyond the $360 million already spent to create Common Core-aligned PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests. And he wants student test scores to be included in teacher evaluations, as part of a "multiple measures" system.
The Senate education committee is scheduled to hold a hearing specifically addressing testing on Jan. 20, the same day as President Obama's State of the Union speech.
Among other notable points in Duncan's speech today were:
- The President's budget request will include $2.7 billion in increased education spending. Of that, $1 billion will be designated for high-needs Title I schools.
- A renewed call for expanded access to preschool.
- A call for distributing funding more equitably among public schools in high- and low-income areas. According to a 2014 report, in 19 states high-poverty districts receive less state and local funding than low-poverty districts.