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NCLB Outrages

Secretary Spellings' Remarks on the Fifth Anniversary of the No Child Left Behind Act

Ohanian Comment: It was entirely fitting that the U. S. Department of Education celebrated the fifth anniversary of NCLB as guests of the U. S. Chamber of Commerce.
The house was packed with supporters, with nobody asking tough questions.

Secretary Spellings was as short on NCLB facts as she was on material in her skirt. But no one who might question her facts was allowed in the hall.

Margaret Spellings

Thank you, Tom Donohue, for introducing me I'd also like to thank the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for hosting us Thank Tom [Donohue], Art Rothkopf for co-chairing the Chamber's Business Coalition with John Castellani and Susan Traiman. I'd also like to thank the greater business community for leading the charge on workforce readiness.

People like TechNet's Lezlee Westine and NAM's John Engler, who unfortunately couldn't be here today, have made a real difference with NCLB and the President's competitiveness agenda.

I'm happy to be here today to celebrate the 5-year anniversary of No Child Left Behind with the people who made the law possible. Since I also just celebrated my fifth wedding anniversary, I've been thinking a lot about what anniversaries mean. And by the way, while wood may be traditional after 5 years, every girl knows that the right gift is always diamonds!

Anniversaries also remind us that every day, we have to recommit ourselves to the things that are important to us. And when it comes to education policy, this is a critical moment. With No Child Left Behind, we set the goal to have every student reading and doing math on grade level by 2014. And it's working!

* The Nation's Report Card showed our younger students made more reading progress in 5 years than in the previous 28 combined
* Reading and math scores are reaching all-time highs for younger students

Now it's time to renew the law—and I'm counting on your help to get the job done this year. No Child Left Behind came about in the first place because people like you recognized that our education system was broken.

Everybody here knows that before this act became law, kids often moved from grade to grade, and nobody knew whether or not they had learned to read, write, add, or subtract. We invested billions of dollars and basically just hoped for the best. The lack of accountability helped create an achievement gap where poor and minority students lagged far behind their peers.

So when President Bush first came to Washington back in 2001, the nation was ready for reform. The President made No Child Left Behind his first priority—literally from his first day and his first week in office. And so did members of Congress from both sides of the aisle.

* I remember that first week vividly—every single speech the President gave was about education
* I was present when he and Senator Ted Kennedy met on education for the first time
* Representative Boehner talks about how he thought he was getting the consolation prize when he became Chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee—and he also says it became one of the most important accomplishments of his life so far
* Their mutual respect came from the fact that we all knew how much was at stake

Later today, we'll be back in the Oval Office with the President and Congressional leaders to talk about building on the progress we've already made.

* Renewing NCLB is one of the President's top priorities
* I'm confident that Chairman Kennedy, Senator Enzi, Chairman Miller, and Representative McKeon will continue to be strong supporters
* From the start, they've stayed true to the core principles of NCLB—because they know those principles are right and righteous
* I read in the paper recently that Chairman Miller said, "If NCLB is gone, America's poor kids will again be forgotten." And I couldn't agree more.

The business community was key to the passing of the law in 2000, I'm counting on you to play an even greater role this year. I've also been impressed with the personal commitment of several CEOs who I want to mention even though they're not able to be here today, including:

* Craig Barrett (Intel)
* Art Ryan (Prudential)
* Ed Rust (State Farm)

From my point of view, regardless of where you're starting from, active, engaged business communities are key to improving our schools. In states like Massachusetts, Maryland, and California, private sector involvement is making a meaningful difference in students' lives.

That's why it's so important that the Chamber is now supporting reform on a national level. You know better than anybody that our education system has not kept pace with the rising demands of the workplace. So I don't have to tell you that:

* Half of African-American and Hispanic students fail to graduate from high school on time
* Two-thirds of high-growth, high-wage jobs require a college degree, but only a third of Americans have one
* We spend more than a billion dollars each year—and much by you in the business community—on remedial classes for college students who didn't get the education they needed in high school

I'm counting on you to be on the front lines as we head into the process of renewing this law. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there, and we must set them straight.

We've heard it all before... we're testing too much. We're teaching to the test. We're narrowing the curriculum. The law is unfunded. It's punitive. It unfairly labels schools as "failing." And its goal of having all students on grade level by 2014 is simply not possible.

But as I've traveled around the country, I've met thousands of parents who are grateful to have more information on how their students are doing.

Recently, my Department received an email from Emma Elizalde [el-ee-zal-day], a parent in San Jose, California. She wrote, "Perhaps for some high-level executives from school districts, colleges, and universities, the message about [this law] might take a while to grasp. But ... for parents, the message came straight to the heart and without delay." As a mother, I know exactly what she means.

Not once in all my travels have I met a parent who didn't want their child learning on grade level now—let alone by 2014. I know I do, and I'm sure every parent in this room agrees.

Of course we know that there are a few students who may need additional time or accommodations to reach grade level—such as those with significant disabilities, or those who have just arrived in our country and are still learning English. And we at the Education Department have already made changes to help states and schools factor that into their measuring systems.

As for testing, I believe President Bush is absolutely right when he says you can't solve a problem unless you diagnose it. If you don't know a child is having a problem, how can you fix it? If you don't measure, how do you know that students are making progress?

To help schools in need of improvement, No Child Left Behind provides resources—including free tutoring for struggling students. And President Bush and the Congress have increased federal K-12 spending by 41 percent over the last five years.

* It's not enough to simply ask how much we're spending
* Every year, we have the same conversation about funding at the local, state, and federal levels... and we'll have it again this year
* But the most important question is whether students are learning

The truth is, No Child Left Behind helps kids by measuring their progress and holding schools accountable for helping them improve. It helps teachers by providing them with information to better manage their classrooms, and resources to improve and enrich their teaching. And it helps businesses by helping students gain the skills they need to succeed.

* I've worked in policymaking for 20 years, and I've yet to see a perfect law—especially one as far-reaching as this one
* But the core principles of NCLB are as strong and sound as they were five years ago

As we move forward with reauthorization, we must preserve these principles while improving the law. I look forward to working with the Congress to get this very important job done.

The next big questions in American education are:

* Are we going to make accountability as meaningful as it should be? Are we going to give schools progress for students' progress over time?
* What will it take to help the students who are struggling the most?
* How are we going to use people and time more effectively to reach the neediest students?

As I said before, I can't imagine a better way to celebrate the fifth anniversary of No Child Left Behind than to spend it with all of you. Because I'm counting on you, and the country is counting on you. We've made real progress... and we have a lot of important work ahead. Together, we'll succeed.

Thank you, and I'd be happy to take your questions.

— Margaret Spellings
Press Release


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