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Obama to Make High-Profile Pitch for 'Fixing' NCLB

President Barack Obama is expected to give a speech this morning calling on Congress to "fix" the No Child Left Behind Act in time for the start of the next school year.

The speech, at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Va., will be the administration's highest-profile pitch yet for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is seen as one of the few pieces of legislation that could garner bipartisan support in a deeply divided Congress.

The big question is whether the jolt of presidential energy will be enough to jump-start efforts to reauthorize the nine-year-old law. Discussions have been going on for over a year now, but so far, no one has introduced a bill.

Right after the State of the Union address, which put a lot of focus on education, a bipartisan group of senators announced they would roll up their sleeves and get cracking on ESEA. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, has said he wants to introduce a reauthorization bill around Easter.

For now, the conversation seems to be moving, particularly in the Senate, but it's been slow going.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee that 82 percent of schools will be labeled as failing next year if Congress doesn't act to change the law. The warning drew little response from the committee, and a number of education experts started scratching their heads at the figure and even urged the administration to show its work.

It doesn't sound like Obama is going to call for any new policies, beyond what the administration put forth in its blueprint for revising the law, which was released almost exactly a year ago.

On a call with reporters previewing the speech, Duncan and Melody Barnes, Obama's domestic policy advisor, emphasized themes straight out of the blueprint and Duncan's stump speeches.

Those include:

• Rewarding states and districts that make gains, not just identifying those that fail to meet goals. Under the blueprint, that includes a new round of the Investing in Innovation program, or i3, and the Race to the Top competition, as well as a new "Title I rewards" program.

• Aiming for getting all students ready for college or a career, instead of just bringing students to proficiency on state tests. More than 40 states have signed on to create college- and career-ready standards.

• Revamping teacher quality measures to put more of an emphasis on educator effectiveness, as demonstrated in part by student progress on standardized tests.

• Moving beyond the emphasis on just reading and math by allowing states to use tests in other subjects, such as history, to demonstrate student progress under the law.

• Giving states more control over how to intervene in most schools, while keeping a tight federal focus on the lowest-performing schools.

"Educators and governors are begging for the kind of common sense reforms that we're proposing," Duncan said.

Some background: NCLB was up for reauthorization way back in 2007, but no renewal bill has officially been introduced by either of the education committees. There are partisan divisions to be sure, but both parties are also split internally. For more on the politics, check out this story.

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