Washington (CNN) - The Obama administration plans to send a wide-ranging overhaul of the No Child Left Behind education law to Congress on Monday, arguing that the current legislation has pushed schools to lower their standards to meet federal requirements.
The 8-year-old law was one of the signature policies of the Bush administration. It set up a regimen of state reading and math tests for students in third through eighth grades, intended to identify failing schools. But critics have said the Bush administration never properly funded the effort and that states needed more flexibility in meeting those goals.
During his weekly radio address Saturday, President Barack Obama said his administration's proposed overhaul will "set a high bar - but we also provide educators the flexibility to reach it."
"Under these guidelines, schools that achieve excellence or show real progress will be rewarded, and local districts will be encouraged to commit to change in schools that are clearly letting their students down," he said.
During his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama said the law's goal was "the right one," but the legislation "has significant flaws that need to be addressed." And Education Secretary Arne Duncan told CNN last week that educators have "lowered the bar" to meet No Child Left Behind standards.
"We've had low expectations - not because it's the right thing educationally, not because it's the right thing for our economy. We did it because of political pressure," Duncan told CNN's "The Situation Room."
The Department of Education has identified 11 states it said lowered math standards. But several of those states have disputed that conclusion, and it was not clear whether any reduced their standards so that their scores would look better.
The administration's "Blueprint for Reform" shifts the focus from singling out underperforming schools to fostering a "race to the top" to reward successful reforms. The proposed revisions promise that low-performing schools that fail to improve will be asked to show "dramatic change," but states and school districts be held accountable for those shortcomings as well.
It supports the expansion of public charter schools and calls for giving states and school districts additional flexibility in how they spend federal dollars, "as long as they are continuing to focus on what matters most - improving outcomes for students." And it also allows them to use federal grant funds to change the way teachers and principals are paid, "to provide differentiated compensation and career advancement opportunities to educators who are effective in increasing student academic achievement," among other considerations.
But the newly published "blueprint" immediately came under fire from the nation's largest teachers union, the National Education Association, which said it was "disappointed" by Obama's proposals.
"We were expecting more funding stability to enable states to meet higher expectations," the union's president, Dennis Van Roekel, said in a statement issued over the weekend. "Instead, the 'blueprint' requires states to compete for critical resources, setting up another winners-and-losers scenario. We were expecting school turnaround efforts to be research-based and fully collaborative. Instead, we see too much top-down scapegoating of teachers and not enough collaboration."
The Obama administration's $50 billion proposed education budget adds $3 billion in funding to help schools meet these revised goals, with the possibility of an additional $1 billion if the overhaul plan passes Congress.