U.S. President Barack Obama says it is time to make the country's education system "the envy of the world."
Obama announced plans Friday to give states more control over how they teach students as long as they promise to meet higher standards. States would get greater flexibility along with the higher standards they set.
The plan also requires states to show that they have a plan to help the lowest performing schools improve.
Obama's plan takes aim at the No Child Left Behind education law signed in 2002 by then-President George W. Bush. Critics say the law is too focused on standardized student testing, penalizing even high-performing schools if some students fall short on performance examinations.
Obama praised his predecessor for trying to improve the education system, but said the law had numerous "flaws" and that changes were overdue.
Republican Representative John Kline, who chairs the House Education Committee, criticized the president's plan, saying Obama has set a troubling precedent that gives the education secretary "sweeping authority to handpick winners and losers."
President Obama told educators, students and officials at the White House that the U.S. can not "afford to let another generation of young people fall behind."
Obama said as many as 25 percent of U.S. students fail to finish high school, and the U.S. now ranks only 16th in the world in college graduates.
The No Child Left Behind law requires every student to be completely knowledgeable in math and reading by 2014. But Education Secretary Arne Duncan says the current standards would label more than 80 percent of the nation's schools as failures, a figure disputed by some experts.
The Obama administration plan would work by granting waivers to states that promise to meet even more rigorous standards.
Obama said the plan was needed after Congress repeatedly failed to address flaws in No Child left Behind.