U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan proposed several revisions within the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education reform initiated under the Bush administration. While he intends to remain focused on academic gains, he will allow individual schools the freedom to determine how those improvements will be made, he said during a press conference on Monday.

 “As we traveled the county over this past year, a number of clear challenges with the previous law showed up,” Duncan said. “We have to flip all that.”

According to Duncan, the current NCLB legislation lowered the bar, was too prescriptive and narrowed the curriculum. It did nothing to confront an “absolutely unacceptable” 27 percent national dropout rate, overlooked investment in principals and inadequately awarded schools and teachers for maintaining high standards or those who had made improvements.

“We want to identify , reward them and give them increased autonomy,” Duncan said.

The secretary said the proposal is designed to hold middle-performing schools accountable for accelerating progress, and pressure will be applied to chronically-underachieving schools. However, all schools will be expected to continue interventions for struggling students, but the methods of those interventions will no longer be orchestrated from the higher-ups.

“We’ll be giving them flexibility as to how they meet their performance targets,” Duncan said. “We don’t feel we can micromanage 95,000 schools. We have to increase local flexibility and give teachers a chance to innovate.”

But the plan will be “tough-minded” and push low-performing schools with “a sense of urgency.” Although $3.5 billion could be allocated to assist these schools —up $350 million from previous federal funding —the state would be responsible for deciding how that money should be spent.

An increased investment is also suggested to support principals in order for them to better meet the needs of their staff.

“Not only are we focusing on schools, but we’re focusing on school districts and on states,” Duncan said. “Districts and states weren’t a part of the previous law but they would be in our proposal.”

A college readiness course for high school students will also be added across the country if Duncan’s proposal receives the green light. Optimistic about the potential program, he said a college preparatory class could “revolutionize education in this country.”

“We just need to do as a country what’s best for the children,” Duncan said. “We think we have a huge opportunity to improve the quality of education our children receive. We’re absolutely focused on growth and gain.”