Changes to the No Child Left Behind program must be made before the abandonment of America’s at-risk children to failure becomes more deeply engrained, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a House committee on March 9.

“No Child Left Behind is broken and we need to fix it now,” Duncan told the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Duncan said that 82 percent of U.S. schools could fail to meet the education goals set by No Child Left Behind—up 45 percent from last year. Duncan wants Congress to examine the Bush-era law to make sure students are getting the best education possible.

“This law has created dozens of ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed,” Duncan said. “We should get out of the business of labeling schools as failures and create a new law that is fair and flexible, and focused on the schools and students most at risk.”

Duncan argued that the law requires all states to use uniform standards in how they meet Adequate Yearly Progress; a measure he said prevents states and local jurisdictions from tailoring their curriculum to meet the needs of students.

However, some disagree with Duncan’s assessment, claiming that changing the law would give underperforming schools a free pass.

“If we’re going to try, in the name of closing the achievement gap, to whitewash the underperformance of schools, that’s really regrettable,” Bush administration Education Secretary Margaret Spellings told The Washington Post.

Duncan has seen resistance on his own education policies. Duncan’s “Race to the Top” plan tied federal compensation to academic achievement, but many officials at at-risk school districts said education should be funded on the basis of need and not achievement.

“There’s a tremendous problem with “Race to the Top” and it’s fundamental,” Nathan A. Saunders, president of the Washington Teacher’s Union, told the AFRO last year. “The structure is that we are going to reward achievement. The problem is not all children achieve at the same level or at the same time.”

At the March 9 hearing, committee members largely listened to Duncan without offering criticism, and agreed with the need for change to the American educational system.

“Although we may not always see eye-to-eye, you and I share a belief that the current system is broken and in desperate need of repair,” Rep. John Line, R.-Minn., told Duncan during the hearing.