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Secretary Spellings at National Governor Association

Ohanian Comment: Spellings actually speaks of the genius of No Child Left Behind.

Some would think it isn't wise for Spellings to brag about the Texas scores when Bush was governor. But, as always, the White House relies on the press not calling them to account for anything they say.

Prepared Remarks for Secretary Spellings at the National Governors Association's National Education Summit on High Schools

Thank you for inviting me to speak on behalf of the Department of Education. It's been about a year since we last met.

I want to thank Chairman Gov. Warner and Vice Chairman Gov. Huckabee for their able leadership. The NGA has never been stronger. Let me also thank Gov. Sebelius and Gov. Pawlenty for their hard work leading this session.

When a meeting earns the title "Summit," it usually refers to an urgent challenge that can only be solved by working together, in a bipartisan fashion. That's certainly the case when it comes to improving the quality of high school education.

This is a problem that's been building for years. It's one we cannot avoid - a national priority. But the good news is that Governors are ahead of the curve. In fact, some may experience déjà vu as I outline the President's plan. For instance:

In Arkansas, Gov. Huckabee wants all high schools to offer rigorous coursework and advanced placement classes.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Doyle favors "pay[ing] teachers not only on the length of their service, but also on their ability to help children learn."

In Minnesota, Gov. Pawlenty supports allowing high school students to earn college-level credits.

And Virginia's Gov. Warner has made "Redesigning the American High School" his focus as NGA Chairman.

The very first words of this Summit's "Action Agenda" read, "America's high schools are failing to prepare too many of our students for work and higher education."

It calls for upgrading coursework; aligning standards to the needs of employers and universities; recruiting and keeping highly qualified teachers; and - yes - measuring students and holding schools accountable for results.

As Gov. Warner notes, "The agenda is ambitious, but the need has never been more clear or urgent."

Amen to that! The President and I couldn't agree more.

Of course, talk is cheap. Usually. But Governors have a track record of solving the problems they talk about. Now, this is not to shortchange Congress. Some of my friends from the Hill are here today, and we did some amazing work together on No Child Left Behind. But when I worked for a certain Governor of Texas, I considered myself one of the luckiest people around. States are where the action is - and where the opportunity to improve education lies.

That's as much a credit to the system as to the people in it. When our Founders wrote the U.S. Constitution, they didn't write down a laundry list of what the states could or could not do.

Instead, they listed the few tasks for which the federal government was responsible, then "reserved" the rest "to the States...or to the people" - including public education.

It was unprecedented. It was genius. And as a former Governor, it's the spirit by which President Bush governs today.

When President Bush was Governor Bush, one of his top priorities was to bring high standards and accountability to Texas public schools. Now, I don't want to be a Texas braggart - but after we did, Texas students showed some of the largest achievement gains in the nation. And, in the words of Time Magazine, "Black and Latino children have made galloping gains in math and reading scores..., narrowing the achievement gap."

The lesson? Accountability works. Of course, we weren't the only ones who understood its importance. Many of you here deserve just as much credit.

A little later, when Governor Bush ran for President, he had to look at education from a national perspective. He understood that the federal government had a role to play.

In 1965, President Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, giving the first federal aid to high-poverty school districts. But while the inputs were there, the accountability for results was missing. Senator Robert F. Kennedy asked a year later, "What happened to the children? Do you mean you spent a billion dollars and you don't know whether they can read or not?"

Thirty-five years - and $130 billion -- later, reading and math test scores remained stagnant. The achievement gap was growing wider. Children were being left behind.

So the President's first legislative priority was the No Child Left Behind Act. The genius of the law was that it held states accountable for measuring and improving student performance - but it did not dictate how. Governors and Members of Congress, liberals and conservatives, children's advocates and states rights advocates - all were united behind it.

Under the law, different strategies were not just allowed, but encouraged - the kind of innovation for which Governors are justifiably known. Just this past week Delaware, Florida and New Jersey, among others, agreed to use the Department of Education's Teacher-to-Teacher e-Learning courses as credit toward highly qualified teacher status.

Eighteen months after the law was signed, all 50 states had unique accountability plans in place. Not one Governor chose to leave his or her federal Title I money behind. Not one sent an army of lobbyists to Washington to find a way out of it. Not one complained that it was unconstitutional.

As the Washington Post noted Friday, "[You] focus[ed your] energy" not "on blocking testing and standards...[but] on trying to find ways to raise them." In other words, you buckled down and made the law work.

As a result, state reading and math scores are on the rise. Nearly every state reports improved academic performance. And the pernicious achievement gap is finally beginning to close.

Those "galloping gains" are now being reported all across the nation, especially in urban school districts.

President Bush had faith that public school teachers, principals and administrators could improve academic performance. He had faith in his fellow Governors. And that faith is being rewarded. We must stay the course.

Now we're being tested again. Everyone in this room recognizes that our high schools are not yet part of this success story. Too many students are being left behind.

Today, as you have heard, only 68 out of 100 entering ninth-graders will graduate from high school on schedule. Fewer than 20 will graduate from college on time. Meanwhile, 80 percent of the fastest-growing jobs will require some post-secondary education.

This is reaching crisis stages in the fields of science and engineering. A study by the Computing Research Association found a 19 percent drop in technology and engineering enrollment in 2003. China now graduates six times as many engineering majors as the U.S.; South Korea and Japan, four times as many. This type of performance has serious implications for the future, as I'm sure Bill Gates reminded you yesterday.

Another problem is the growing burden of remedial education. A Manhattan Institute study found that only 32 percent of students leaving high school are prepared for college. Nearly half require remedial classes. As Gov. Huckabee points out, "Remedial is not college credit - remedial is paying college price for repeating a high-school course."

And, I would add, it's like taxing an employer twice. States do not have the luxury of a captive audience. Residents can come and go. And so can jobs.

You work too hard for this to continue. We must make a high school diploma a ticket to success in the 21st Century, whether the destination is higher education or the workforce.

Under the President's proposed High School Initiative, students would be tested in two additional high school grades in reading and math. The President's 2006 Budget contains $250 million to fund these additional tests.

The Budget also contains more than $1.2 billion to help at-risk or struggling high school students. Governors would be able to invest it as they see fit - for dropout prevention, vocational and technical courses, college awareness programs or more. Schools could develop individualized performance plans for students at risk of falling behind or dropping out. The President's Budget also shifts decision-making power to the states by consolidating programs with a shared purpose and reallocating the money to you to get results.

One of those results must be improved preparation. Students with great expectations for the future often find themselves betrayed by inadequate coursework. Today only five states require four years of math. Just six require four years of grade-level English. Forty percent of high schools do not even offer advanced placement courses.

Research shows rigorous high school coursework to be one of the best predictors of future success. So the President has proposed a 73 percent increase in funding for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs to reach more low-income and minority students. The funds can be used to train teachers and defray costs such as exam fees.

The budget would also invest $12 million to increase the number of states participating in the State Scholars program. This public/private partnership strives for a college-ready curriculum in every high school. This includes subjects such as algebra II, physics and foreign languages. Right now, just 15 states are on board. *

A new Presidential Math-Science Scholars Program would award up to $5,000 each to low-income college students engaged in those demanding pursuits.

And because teachers are the key to success, a $500 million Teacher Incentive Fund would reward those who make outstanding progress in raising student achievement or narrowing the achievement gap.

Your "Action Agenda" calls on the nation to raise expectations for what students should be required to achieve in high school. It calls on states to improve the quality of teaching and leadership. And it calls on all of us "to restore value to the high school diploma." I believe the President's Budget will help you achieve these goals we share.

Governors have long been the leaders of the accountability movement. And as we move to the next phase, I ask for your support and your spirit of innovation. I understand that some of you are looking for some flexibility. I appreciate that. In the past we've come to agreements on several aspects of the law, such as qualifications for rural and multi-subject teachers, and a "safe harbor" to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress. I am traveling the nation - and listening to your concerns.

But we draw a bright line on the linchpins of this law: annual testing of all students, and disaggregation of testing data. No longer can we allow minority, disadvantaged or disabled kids to be misdiagnosed, hidden behind the averages, and lost in the shuffle.

This law is an expression of the President's belief that every child can learn, and every child must be taught.

Change is hard. Getting every child to graduate high school - with a meaningful diploma in their hands -- is one of the biggest challenges our country faces. It's never been done. That's why there is push-back from both sides of the political spectrum. In Washington, when both sides attack you, it means you're doing something right.

So I applaud you for confronting these challenges head-on, and staying ahead of the curve. I look forward to working with you, the Governors, and Congress to reach a solution together for our kids. Thank you.

*Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Washington

— Secretary of Education Spellings
National Governor Association


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