Connecticut schools chief demands apology from Spellings
HARTFORD, Conn. -- State Education Commissioner Betty Sternberg is asking the nation's schools chief for an apology for saying Connecticut's attitude toward minority students is "un-American."
U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings sharply criticized Connecticut's plans to file a lawsuit challenging the No Child Left Behind education law on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer last week.
"I think it's un-American _ I would call it _ for us to take the attitude that African-American children in Connecticut living in inner cities are not going to be able to compete," Spellings said.
She added: "That's the notion, the soft bigotry of low expectations, as the president calls it, that No Child Left Behind rejects."
In a letter to Spellings Monday, Sternberg said standardized test results from the last five years show that the state's black and Hispanic students have made faster gains than white students.
"I must tell you that as a Jewish American whose family was deeply affected by the pogroms of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and later by the Holocaust, bigotry is never 'soft,"' Sternberg wrote. "Bigotry always has a hard edge. It is simply outrageous that you would accuse me and my associates of 'the soft bigotry of low expectations.'
"I have higher expectations of the Secretary of Education and would suggest that, at a minimum, an apology is in order," she wrote.
Spellings' comments came as Connecticut announced intentions last week to become the first state to file a federal lawsuit challenging the law. Meanwhile, the federal government said it was willing to grant some flexibility to states committed to the law's key ideals.
Messages seeking comment were left with a federal Education Department spokeswoman.
The state has been at odds with the federal Department of Education over annual testing, one of the law's requirements. Sternberg has resisted expanding testing to grades three, five and seven in Connecticut, saying more tests will not tell educators more than they already know. The state has tested students in grades four, six, eight and 10 for years.
In the televised interview, Spellings defended the tests, saying they can help tell which students and teachers need help. She said the government has been sending money to the state to develop them and on the eve of implementation Connecticut was saying it couldn't do it.
Sternberg called that flat-out wrong.
"We have never said that we cannot add testing in grades three, five and seven," she said. "We have done all the necessary work, including administering pilot items for our third, fifth and seventh grade students over the last three years."
Noreen Gillespie, Associated Press
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