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NCLB Outrages

Education Secretary Continues Campaign for

Ohanian Comment: Here's an example of the openness of Ms. Spellings:

Organizers of the 4,500- educator conference said the Department of Education requested that reporters be barred from Spellings' appearance.

But a Sun reporter who had registered for the conference in advance was able to gain entry.

How does press allow this? How does an association of professional educators allow this?

The Department of Ed says it was the conference leaders who barred the press. In any case, certainly the conference leaders are at fault--either for barring the press or for allowing them to be barred. AND I'd also like to ask professional groups why they make Spellings' appearance easy by letting her appear after an entertainer, in this case Montel Williams? Why not have a spokeperson for resistance to NCLB precede her? And force her to deviate from her 'prepared remarks.'

Spellings' prepared remarks can be found below the news item.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings continued her campaign yesterday to garner support for changes to the federal No Child Left Behind Act, telling hundreds of educators gathered in Baltimore that she remains open to more ways of relaxing standards.

But the secretary's 15-minute speech at the National Association of Elementary School Principals conference disappointed educators who hoped to hear more details about her pledge to be more accommodating to their concerns about the three- year-old education reform law.

In her appearance at the Baltimore Convention Center, Spellings discussed a recent decision by the Department of Education to loosen rules that govern how states measure academic progress among students with disabilities. She also promised $14 million to help states figure out the changed policies.

"I'm open to new ideas, but I won't budge on the central premise of the law," said the former education adviser to then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

No Child Left Behind has been under fire in some states. Connecticut intends to file a federal lawsuit over the measure. Utah lawmakers are trying to pass a bill that would give priority to local education goals.

Critics of the law say the federal government has not provided enough support and money to help states achieve the law's goal that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Schools must test students once a year and are penalized if they do not show continual improvement.

Yesterday, Spellings repeated praise of the law as a "landmark" because it forces schools for the first time to report test scores for disadvantaged students, including minorities, non-native English speakers and the poor and disabled.

Her speech was occasionally punctuated with polite applause from the audience. At the conclusion of the speech, more than half of those attending stood in an ovation.

Organizers of the 4,500- educator conference said the Department of Education requested that reporters be barred from Spellings' appearance.
But a Sun reporter who had registered for the conference in advance was able to gain entry.

Federal education officials denied closing the event to reporters, laying the blame on conference organizers.

"The association decided it wasn't open-press," said Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the department. "It certainly wasn't coming from me in our press office."

Some principals said afterward that Spellings did not address problems that schools are facing in carrying out the federal mandate.

"To be honest, there wasn't very much of substance there," said Rick Gregory, principal of Roberts Elementary School in Fond du Lac, Wis.

Gregory, whose school has a growing population of disabled pupils, said assessments will not be meaningful unless they are tailored to children's different abilities and potential. He also said the law's ultimate goal is unrealistic.

"I know we won't have 100 percent [of students proficient] in 2014, just because of the nature of my students," he said.

Gail Cropper, principal of Washington Elementary School in Trenton, N.J., said she was disappointed by the speech and wished that the audience of school principals had been allowed to engage in a question-and-answer session.

"I really didn't hear anything for me to applaud for or get excited about," said Cropper, who was named a Principal of the Year in New Jersey in 2004.

Cropper has been appealing to her state's education officials over what she considers an unfair rule under the law. The school's test scores have been dragged down by the low achievement of two dozen children who live in the school's attendance area but are enrolled elsewhere because they require special-education services.

Mary Ann Delate, a first-grade teacher at Washington Elementary, said she was expecting "more meat" in Spellings' speech, considering she was addressing an audience of professional educators.

"This was more like a political rah-rah," Delate said.

Commitment to Doing What Works Prepared Remarks for Secretary Spellings at the Convention of the National Association of Elementary School Principals

FOR RELEASE: April 18, 2005 Speaker sometimes deviates from text.

Thank you. Let me thank Vince Ferrandino for that kind introduction. I also want to thank your president, Rosie Young, and all the members of your board of directors for inviting me today. I'm not sure how you all find enough hours in the day to serve as principals and as members of this board.

It's an honor to be here today with you though it's not an easy act to follow Montel Williams! I often say: "Show me a great school, and I'll show you a great principal." Of course, you have to catch the principal first. And that's not so easy considering all the different jobs you juggle.

You manage everything from student instruction and curriculum development to public relations, professional development, and building maintenance. You'll go from being an administrator, to a teacher, to a financial officer, to a mentor, to yes, a cheerleader all in the span of one hour. You see the big picture, but you also need to know every name and nuance as well.

In Texas, we might describe your calling with the legendary saying: "One riot, one ranger." As the principal, you are that lone ranger facing an overwhelming set of responsibilities. You're on the frontlines of some of the most important years in our children's lives.

Anyone who questions the importance of this window of opportunity in elementary school should watch me try to get my daughters to clean their rooms now that they have moved on to middle and high school. We need to take advantage of these early years. Our children have much to learn, and so do we. We need to focus on doing what works in the classroom as well as what works in the halls of government. And at every level, there must be accountability for results for students.

It's crucial that we start our children off on the right foot in school. The stakes are high in these first years and what we do really matters. Research shows that children who cannot read by the end of the third grade face a tough road to graduation and are far more likely to drop out of school.

As you know, there's a science to reading. We know there are a few fundamental skills children need to master before they can read. Now we must make sure this research makes it to the classroom where it can help kids. That's where the president's Reading First program helps.

Reading First provides schools with funding to develop reading programs based on our best science. So far we have invested almost $3 billion in the program, and much of this money has gone toward training teachers to use the most effective methods of reading instruction. Already, nearly 100,000 Reading First teachers are helping more than 1.5 million children across the country become better readers.

Jefferson-Barns Elementary School in Michigan is one school that has already seen how Reading First can make a book lover out of even the most reluctant reader. The school now even holds an annual family reading night. As the principal explains: Once you teach students to love reading, "everything from there will follow." I'm sure you've seen the power of reading in your own schools too.

It's never too early to share the pleasures of reading with our children. On Saturday, you discussed the importance of pre-kindergarten instruction. The president and I agree. We want your students to walk into elementary school ready to learn. Once again, language skills and reading readiness are key.

Children do not go to bed lacking the skills to read one night and then magically wake up with them the next morning. Learning to read does not happen automatically. It's a process and one that we need to start as early as possible. The Early Reading First program is helping young children from low-income families develop these skills before kindergarten. Youngsters learn about letters, sounds, vocabulary, books, and other concepts essential for reading. And they have fun at the same time.

We're working to improve early childhood education on a number of other fronts as well. For example, my good friend, Secretary Mike Leavitt, at the Department of Health and Human Services runs the Head Start program. We're committed to improving and coordinating all these efforts as part of the president's "Good Start, Grow Smart" initiative to focus on the best practices for raising children during the critical first years of life.

Now, my daughters don't want me to tell you this, but I often like to think of No Child Left Behind as my third child. It's almost three and a half-years-old, so it's at a critical age right now. As with any child, the most important years are the early ones.

It started as a promising bill, testifying to the president's belief that every child can learn. Over the last three years, we have watched that bill grow into the most important education reform in half a century.

Before No Child Left Behind, the performance of some student groups, like minority, low-income, and special-needs students, would often get buried beneath misleading averages. It became all too common to overlook these students and their academic struggles. No Child Left Behind forced us to confront this achievement gap and to take accountability for fixing it.

Already we can see the law is making a difference. Across the country, test scores are rising, and the achievement gap is beginning to close. I'm sure you are seeing it too in your own schools. In states across the country, more and more schools are making adequate yearly progress in reading and math among all groups of students.

We want to build on this success. We all have learned much over the last three years, and now we need to use this new information to improve the way we do our work. That's why one of my top priorities has been listening to you and others on the frontlines of education reform. We know the heavy lifting of closing the achievement gap and making this law a reality takes place in your schools, and we want to know what is working and what needs to work better.

At the federal level, we set the broad strategic goals and provide new record levels of resources to help get the job done. Including the new 2006 budget, the president has increased funding for K–12 education by 38 percent since taking office. We are committed to making this law work.

Earlier this month, I announced a new way of doing business between states and the U.S. Department of Education. It's called "Raising Achievement: A New Path for No Child Left Behind." It's a common-sense approach that places the focus on results for students.

Here's the way it works. States that follow the bright-line principles of No Child Left Behind and show real results will be eligible for new tools to help them meet the law's ultimate goal of getting every child to grade level by 2014. In other words, if states are closing the achievement gap and meeting proficiency targets, they can qualify for additional flexibility.

Of course, the only way to show progress is to keep assessing every student and breaking down the data by student groups every year. That's the linchpin of the law. Without measurement, there can be no accountability for results. And without accountability, children will fall behind and slip through the cracks.

We don't insist on annual assessment because we like to test kids. We do it so that principals like you can work with teachers to determine which students need extra help. We do it so you can identify what resources your schools need to ensure every child succeeds. We do it so you can see which programs work and where teachers are effective. Assessment data gives you a valuable management tool to help teachers and students.

Last fall, the Department hosted a two-day workshop devoted to helping principals use this information more effectively. And we want to encourage principals and their teachers to continue this discussion at our Teacher-to-Teacher workshops this summer. These workshops are giving educators all across the country the chance to learn from each other and share practices that work. Please encourage your teachers to participate in our e-Learning courses. These professional development courses offer teachers an easy way to meet the requirements for becoming highly qualified and to keep up with the best new teaching strategies.

A commitment to improving teacher quality will be just one of the many factors that will determine whether states qualify for new flexibility. We'll be looking at the big picture and asking questions like: Are more children reading by the end of the third grade? Are graduation rates rising? Is there a strong plan in place to make sure every child is on grade level by 2014?

In short, we'll let the results speak for themselves. When we passed No Child Left Behind, we wanted to ensure that every child learned to read and do math on grade level.

If you can show that students are making progress toward this overarching goal or "prime directive," as I call it, we'll give you the necessary room to keep doing what works. It's the results that matter, not the bureaucratic way you get there.

The first example of this new flexibility regards how we test students with disabilities. As you know, the law already allows students with significant cognitive disabilities—about 1 percent of all students—to take alternate assessments. Now, new scientific research has shown that some students with persistent academic disabilities can make substantial progress toward grade-level achievement given the right instruction and assessments along with more time. About 2 percent of all students fit this description.

Under this new policy, these students will have the opportunity to take tests that are specifically geared toward their abilities, as long as states continue their commitment to improving special education instruction and assessment. This new approach recognizes that not all children have the same needs.

Of course, we must be careful to balance this new flexibility with safeguards to ensure that all of our students, including those students with disabilities, receive the best education possible. That's why we'll continue to ensure these students count in accountability decisions.

To institute this change, the Department will direct $14 million in immediate support for students with persistent academic disabilities. This money will help you and your teachers identify and assess these students by providing you with technical assistance from the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development and the Institute of Education Sciences as well as from other offices in the Department of Education.

As we continue to watch this law develop, we want to continue listening to you. For example, I know many of you have expressed interest in measuring annual academic progress through growth models, which would monitor individual student progress from year to year. Just as we did with the new special education policy, we will convene experts and researchers to study how this idea might work and whether it supports the greater goals of No Child Left Behind.

Above all, we will let research and results drive our decisions. We want to help you provide the best instruction possible. We're open to new ideas, but we won't budge on the central premise of this law. And that's leaving no child behind.

I know you all understand what's at stake. It's what keeps you at your desk late at night and gets you into the office at the crack of dawn. It's why you chose education as a calling in the first place. We have a special window of opportunity to set our children on the right path in life.

Thank you for your hard work and dedication. We want to see it pay off. And that's why we are taking this New Path for No Child Left Behind. We need to go down it together. It leads the way to a quality education and a brighter future for every child.

Thank you.

— Laura Loh and Margaret Spellings
Baltimore Sun & press release


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