Published: Mar 09, 2011 9:24 PM EST
Updated: Mar 09, 2011 6:24 PM EST

AP- An estimated 82 percent of U.S. schools could be labeled as "failing" under the nation's No Child Left Behind Act this year, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Wednesday.

The Department of Education estimates the number of schools not meeting targets will skyrocket from 37 to 82 percent in 2011 because states are toughening their standards to meet the requirements of the law. The schools will face sanctions ranging from offering tutoring to closing their doors.

"No Child Left Behind is broken and we need to fix it now," Duncan said in a statement. "This law has created a thousand ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed."

Duncan delivered the news in remarks to a House education and work force committee hearing, in urging lawmakers to rewrite the Bush-era act. The law was established in 2002 and many education officials and experts argue it is overdue for changes.

President Barack Obama has highlighted reforming the act as a priority for his administration, and both Democrats and Republicans have agreed that it needs to be changed - though disagreements remain on how.

The current law sets annual student achievement targets designed with the goal of having all students proficient in math and reading by 2014, a standard now viewed as wildly unrealistic.

Duncan said the law has done well in shining a light on achievement gaps among minority and low-income students, as well as those who are still learning English or have disabilities. But he said the law is loose on goals and narrow on how schools get there when it should be the opposite.

"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 said.

The Department of Education said its estimate was based on four years of data and the assuming all schools would improve at the same rate as the top quartile.

"Even under these assumptions, 82 percent of America's schools could be labeled `failing' and, over time, the required remedies for all of them are the same - which means we will really fail to serve the students in greatest need," Duncan said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)