College students in classroom.
College students in classroom. - 
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Kai Ryssdal: Hot on the heels of health care reform and financial reform, we have education reform. Education Secretary Arne Duncan went to Capitol Hill to talk about overhauling No Child Left Behind, including a $4 billion bump in federal education spending. A chunk of it's going to go to improving the nation's lowest-performing schools. Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.

NANCY MARSHALL GENZER: Education secretary Arne Duncan testified at back-to-back hearings today before the House and Senate education committees. He told the House committee we have to educate our way to a better economy.

ARNE DUNCAN: Twenty-seven percent of America's young people drop out of high school. That is economically unsustainable, and morally unacceptable.

So, the Obama administration has decided to focus on the lowest performing schools. And the new plan doesn't rely solely on test scores to measure success, like No Child Behind does. If a student doesn't test well, but advances a grade, that's progress.

Gary Huggins analyzes education reform at the Aspen Institute.

GARY HUGGINS: If someone takes a student, a year-and-a-half or two years worth of progress in a year, that's success. So in many ways that's more fair.

The Obama administration is proposing $400 million in school turnaround grants. But the bottom 5 percent of schools wouldn't get any money unless they took drastic steps like firing teachers or converting to charters.

Rebecca Kelly teaches fifth grade at an elementary school in Detroit. She says there are some things that teachers can't control.

REBECCA KELLY: You know, sleep, warmth, hunger, love. You can't learn unless all of those basic needs are met.

Kelly's school has pulled itself up and is now one of the top performers. But that only happened after it got a federal grant to buy food for students to take home.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace