Massachusetts Governor Backs Expansion of No Child Left Behind
WASHINGTON -- Gov. Mitt Romney (R) embraced expanding No Child Left Behind in high schools Tuesday, saying it could be done in Massachusetts without additional federal money.
Testifying before the House of Representatives Education Committee, Romney said more high school testing would further illuminate performance gaps between minority and white students, a disparity he described as "the civil rights issue of our generation."
President George W. Bush is proposing that 9th and 11th graders be tested to determine whether student performance is strengthening. Currently, No Child Left Behind requires only 10th graders to take standardized tests.
Despite widespread complaints by school officials that No Child Left Behind has been underfunded, Romney said the added tests would not place economic burdens on local districts.
"There continues to be a partisan effort to say we need money for No Child Left Behind," Romney told reporters. "But No Child Left Behind is testing, and it's very small dollars to test."
Superintendents counter that administering the tests, analyzing their results and implementing curriculum changes measurably impacts school budgets.
"I believe that whenever you add responsibility to a school system there should be funding," said Leominster Superintendent Marilyn Fratturelli.
About 25 percent of students in urban high schools fail the 10th grade MCAS, she said, noting it costs additional money to re-test those students.
"I'm completely committed to supporting students' multiple attempts to passing these tests, but obviously there is a cost incurred with that for an urban community," Fratturelli said.
Romney expressed his views to a committee unsupportive of the president's proposal, even as Republicans and Democrats alike noted widespread shortcomings in the nation's high school education system.
"I think we need to take a look at what states and communities are already doing proactively to transform high schools, and ask whether additional federal requirements are even justified," said Chairman John Boehner, an Ohio Republican.
The committee's other witness, Iowa Gov. Thomas Vilsack, a Democrat, said standardized testing does not necessarily translate into real reform.
"The goal for students must not just be what to think, but how to think," Vilsack said.
Romney, who said he was surprised by the committee's reaction to the president's proposal, also called for teacher-based reform. He would pay better teachers more, struggling teachers less and give principals authority to hire and fire as a way to strengthen teaching staff.
"I know of no profession where you get the same amount of money and the same opportunities no matter your performance," Romney told the committee, adding that teacher unions have "fought tooth and nail" against linking performance and salary.
One teachers' union official characterized Romney's idea as counterproductive. "Deciding who gets more money based on a subjective rationale does not help morale," said Catherine Boudreau, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. "This a team effort; all teachers should get good salaries."
Regarding additional tests, she said: "We find it alarming and fiscally irresponsible that a state governor believes it is just fine for the federal government to impose unfunded mandates on states and local communities."
Her statements echoed comments from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass, who said, "This Republican Congress is clearly shortchanging the nation's schools on promised funding. Reforms are essential, but they'll never happen unless schools and communities have the funds to do it."
Romney said the state has been handling the MCAS testing costs since 1993: "Testing is not expensive. Testing our kids is a tiny fraction of our school budget at the state and local level. I mean, it's going to be one percent or less."
Romney, a potential candidate for president in 2008, used the hearing to speak about the national education system. He said national security depends on it.
If the U.S. fails to produce a more innovative and science-based workforce, Romney said, "We'll become a tier-two economy, and a tier-two economy can't have a tier one military."
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