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Arne Duncan To GOP: Get Tested

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan pushed annual standardized testing and a substantial federal role in K-12 education in the Obama administration’s vision for reforming federal education law on Monday.

Duncan set up a showdown with congressional Republicans, who are likely to approach education reform with a substantially different vision.

Duncan said President Obama’s upcoming budget proposal will include an additional $2.7 billion in proposed education funding, including money to improve preschool access and to assist schools serving particularly vulnerable children. While Duncan agreed that No Child Left Behind should be replaced, multi-billion dollar spending increases are unlikely to be palatable for a budget-conscious GOP.

He also defended NCLB’s controversial requirement that states conduct standardized tests in reading and math every single year for students in grades 3-8. The requirement, he said, is essential for getting on honest picture of how well schools are doing and whether they are improving.

“Parents, teachers and students have both the right and the need to know how much progress all students are making each year,” said Duncan.

The testing requirement is favored by several civil rights and education reform groups, but is also opposed by an unlikely alliance of conservative Republicans and teacher unions. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who last week became chairman of the Senate’s education committee and has said that replacing NCLB is his first priority in the new Congress, is widely expected to roll back or eliminate annual testing when he unveils his proposal in the near future.

Duncan argued that eliminating annual tests would be at odds with Republican principles concerning accountability.

“For a Republican party that has fought hard against wasting money, that has pushed for a focus on results for taxpayer dollars, turning back the clock would be truly hypocritical,” said Duncan.

Nonetheless, Duncan acknowledged critics who claim standardized tests are consuming too much class time, suggesting that an updated law could include provisions capping the amount of time schools are allowed to spend on standardized tests rather than instruction.

Fittingly, Duncan’s defense of the federal role in education was made at a D.C. elementary school where he was commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the law which inaugurated the federal government’s substantial intervention in K-12 education.

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