WASHINGTON - Democrats and teachers unions are criticizing the Bush administration for proposing to let school officials override collective-bargaining agreements and state laws in an effort to reshape the No Child Left Behind law.
The recommendations are part of a plan that Education Secretary Margaret Spellings released yesterday. It details changes the administration wants in the five-year-old education law, which is up for renewal this year.
The law seeks to ensure that all children can read and do math at grade level by 2014, requirements that have placed unprecedented demands on schools. They have had to increase testing, raise teacher quality, and pay more attention to the achievements of minority children.
The goal is to free school administrators from parts of local contracts that govern teacher assignments. This is promoted as a way to get good teachers into troubled schools and help push out bad teachers.
Edward McElroy, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the proposal did not make sense.
"To have a superintendent who is a party to the contract . . . then have the authority to override it is silly beyond words," McElroy said.
He said trying to force experienced teachers into troubled schools would lead them to seek jobs elsewhere.
A second proposed change would allow let officials close failing schools and turn them into charter schools, regardless of any state limits on the number of charter schools.
The administration says the federal government has the right to include the charter-school and contract language in a renewed No Child Left Behind law as strings attached to the billions of dollars in aid it provides to these schools.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.), chairman of the committee overseeing education issues, said he was disappointed that the administration had proposed "circumventing state law."
Kennedy and union leaders also criticized a proposal that would give students in failing schools private-school vouchers. Each scholarship would be worth an estimated $4,000.
"School vouchers divert scarce dollars from underfunded public schools and move us farther from achieving a great public school for every child," said Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association.
The top Republican on the House committee overseeing education indicated the measure would have GOP support.
"If we are truly serious about meeting the goals of No Child Left Behind, we must equip parents with every available option so their children can learn, succeed, and grow," said Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R., Calif.).