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Education Secretary Praises Bush Plan

On the heels of a scathing review by state legislators of President Bush's school reform initiative, U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings praised the No Child Left Behind law yesterday but vowed to improve it with help from the nation's educators.

Spellings toured University City High School, where she visited math and science students before speaking to hundreds of teachers, students and residents about Bush's policies.

Spellings pumped up the crowd at the pep-rally-style assembly and encouraged the teenagers to pursue college and the high school classes they need to get there.

She said Bush's plans to extend the federal law including its testing and accountability measures to high schools make sense.

A report released Wednesday by the National Conference of State Legislatures criticized the federal law, saying it established unrealistic expectations and confusing measures for rating schools.

Spellings said she "wants to learn more" about the findings and told the crowd she "wants to hear from educators about how to make No Child Left Behind workable."

Among those accompanying Spellings on the brief campus tour were U.S. Reps. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Escondido, Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, and San Diego city schools Superintendent Alan Bersin.

A longtime Bush adviser, Spellings was made the nation's eighth education secretary last month. She is the first mother of school-age children to hold the post.

Because she has two children, one of whom attends public school, Spellings said, her job is personal. She said she gives her own children the same practical advice that she gives those in California and elsewhere:

"San Diego is an expensive place to live. You are going to have to get the skills to get a job that will satisfy your lifestyle," she told the University City high school students.

Spellings said high schools are ripe for reforms, noting that the U.S. secondary education system has not changed much since she attended high school in Houston.

While observing University City classes, she poked fun at her own high school experience.

"I'm plenty smart, but I'm an example of what not to do in high school," said Spellings, who recalled her vocational education courses that led to a cashier's job at a local grocery store. "I took three years of math, not four. I think it was easier for me to get a job at the Handy Andy."

Spellings graduated from the University of Houston with a bachelor's degree in political science and journalism. She stressed that the changing economy is requiring more of today's students.

Freshman Karen Chen and some classmates were in the midst of using restrictive enzymes to cut up DNA an experiment in their advanced biology class when Spellings walked in and decided to observe their work.

"Y'all studying DNA, is that right?" Spellings said, revealing her ties to Texas, where she attended public schools.

As Spellings touted the president's education policies, legislatures in several states are considering laws to limit the federal government's role in schools.

The president's budget includes about $1.5 billion next year to extend student achievement requirements and testing in the No Child Left Behind Act to high schools.

Critics say the plans are expensive to implement and would undermine efforts already under way in several states.

"There are problems with unfunded, or poorly funded, mandates," said Sandra Mann, chairwoman of the University High School science department.

School board President Luis Acle, who attended yesterday's tour, said he has some concerns about Bush's policies. But he urged educators and politicians to put aside partisan politics and to focus on issues.

"I share some concerns," he said. "But we have to be willing to be constructive because there are some good things in No Child Left Behind."

Maureen Magee: (619) 293-1369; maureen.magee@uniontrib.com

— Maureen Magee
San Diego Union-Tribune


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