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Education secretary defends 'No Child Left Behind'

Ohanian Comment: Two points you don't want to miss. Spellings offers an update on the Business Roundtable emphasis on measurement: What gets measured gets done. And the CEO of Prudential Financial Inc. reveals who really likes NCLB. Surprise, surprise. It's the business community. Of course she's not talking about mom and pop businesses but corporate America.

By Chris Newmarker

MADISON, N.J. - The nation's education chief on Wednesday touted the effectiveness of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, even as more states express concerns over the thousands of schools unable to meet the law's standards.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings told a group of more than 150 New Jersey business and education leaders gathered at Fairleigh Dickinson University's College at Florham that the assessment testing provided for in No Child Left Behind is the best way to make sure that schools are improving.

Quoting a saying from her days in Texas government, Spellings said, "What gets measured gets done."

Graduating students, she said, need to have the math and science skills to compete with workers around the world.

The 2001 law, which faces a potentially tough reauthorization fight in Congress next year, requires schools to bring all students up to grade level in reading and math by the year 2014. Schools failing to get increasing percentages of students up to snuff face penalties ranging from paying for after-school tutoring to a state takeover.

In her Wednesday speech, Spellings touted education improvements since the law's passage, saying that reading scores for 9-year-olds nationwide have increased more over the last five years than the previous 28 years combined. "You all know something different happened about five years ago," she said.

But with thousands of more schools failing to make the grade, states are asking for more flexibility in measuring the test results.

The U.S. Education Department has agreed to consider requests from 20 states, not including New Jersey, to change the way testing is measured.

The states want schools judged over how much individual students are improving as they move through school, rather than the present system that measures how a particular grade, such as fifth grade, improves year after year.

When asked after her speech about the experimental program, Spellings said she was open to better analysis of the testing, even as she sticks by the law's 2014 goal.

"Perhaps this is a new way, a different way, a better way, or an alternative way for us to look at student achievement," Spellings said.

Funding cuts in President Bush's proposed budget won't affect No Child Left Behind because efforts associated with the law, as well as other crucial areas such as special education, will be given priority funding, she said.

Spellings' speech drew supportive comments from the audience. Acting New Jersey Education Commissioner Lucille Davy said No Child Left Behind is "helping us make sure all children achieve at high levels."

Arthur F. Ryan, chairman and chief executive of Prudential Financial Inc., said he believes No Child Left Behind has the "broad support of the business community."

— Chris Newmarker, Associated Press


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