WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is putting education overhaul at the forefront of his agenda as he prepares for his State of the Union address and adjusts to the new reality of a divided government. But trouble signs are already emerging.
Despite a bipartisan consensus in favor of more flexibility for students and teachers, political pressures from the 2012 presidential campaign and disputes over timing, money and scope loom over a debate affecting millions — the overdue renewal of the nation's governing education law, known as No Child Left Behind.
For all the talk in Washington that education might offer the best chance for the White House to work with Republicans, any consensus could swiftly evaporate in the capital's pitiless political crosscurrents, leaving the debate for another day, perhaps even another presidency.
American parents, teachers and students would be left laboring under a burdensome set of testing guidelines and other rules that many agree are pushing standards lower instead of bringing them up.
It's that specter that Obama and members of his administration intend to use to try to marshal public support and spur balky lawmakers and quarreling interest groups into action against long odds.
"No one I'm talking to is defending the status quo," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. "Everyone I talk to really shares my sense of urgency that we have to do better for our children."
Duncan said Obama's commitment to education reform will be reflected in his State of the Union address on Jan. 25.
Some in the GOP, wary of another giant bill like health care, would prefer a series of small measures to the sweeping rewrite of No Child Left Behind favored by the administration.