Nightly News   |  September 23, 2011

Obama to alter No Child Left Behind

President Obama announced Friday he would change some key parts of the No Child Left Behind law, essentially gutting the George W. Bush administration's signature education reform law. NBC’s Kristen Welker reports.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: There is news tonight about this nation's schools and the No Child Left Behind law that sparked controversy even before it went into effect today. President Obama announced he will change some key parts of No Child Left Behind , essentially gutting the George W. Bush administration 's signature education reform law. We get details tonight from NBC 's Kristen Welker at the White House .

KRISTEN WELKER reporting: Today, President Obama announced the largest change to public education in nearly a decade, arguing our schools are failing our students.

President BARACK OBAMA: Today, as many as a quarter of our students aren't finishing high school .

WELKER: States can now opt out of No Child Left Behind , President Bush 's signature domestic initiative which requires students to meet certain targets in reading and math by 2014 or schools face stiff penalties, including decreased federal funding. Recent estimates show roughly 80 percent of schools were headed toward failure.

Pres. OBAMA: Teachers too often are being forced to teach to the test.

WELKER: Here's how it works. States apply for a waiver from No Child Left Behind by providing a written plan for improving the performance of students. If the waiver is granted, schools will no longer get failing grades for poor student test scores.

Mr. ARNE DUNCAN (Secretary of Education): But if for some reason states who we give a waiver to slide backwards or stop, we'll move that waiver, and we'll have a very high bar at the front end.

WELKER: But some Republicans accuse the administration of abusing its power by side-stepping Congress .

Senator LAMAR ALEXANDER (Republican, Tennessee): Don't be tempted to use this opportunity to become a national school board. Does this give you too much power?

Mr. DUNCAN: I'm actually giving away the power. I think that's what folks fundamentally don't understand. We're giving the power to states and districts.

WELKER: One top school official in Maryland says No Child Left Behind highlighted the fact that too many kids have been underserved for too long. But...

Mr. JOSHUA STARR (Montgomery County, Maryland School Superintendent): No Child Left Behind has outlived its usefulness. We need to start looking at 21st century skills, and we need to be more innovative.

WELKER: Turning a new page on public education and the way students learn. Kristen Welker , NBC News , the White House .