With lawsuit looming, Spellings discusses No Child Left Behind
By Stephen Singer
STAMFORD, Conn. -- U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings vigorously defended the No Child Left Behind Act Tuesday in Connecticut, which has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the education law.
"As a matter of policy, this law is working. It is getting results," Spellings said at a meeting with educators organized by U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn.
The No Child law, signed by President Bush in 2002 and now up for renewal in Congress, is the signature education policy of the Bush administration. It is intended to close achievement gaps by ensuring that all children can read and do math at their grade level by 2014.
In August 2005, Connecticut became the first state to sue the U.S. Department of Education, saying the law mandates more testing without providing enough money to pay for it.
"Secretary Spellings needs to listen to administrators and teachers in the trenches who know firsthand the devastating impact of unfunded mandates," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is arguing the lawsuit on the state's behalf.
Spellings declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday except to say that she was pleased that a judge last year dismissed three of its four counts.
The judge left open the door for the state to argue that the U.S. Department of Education unfairly denied its proposed amendments to testing rules, which Blumenthal has said is the crux of the case. The state is appealing the dismissal of the three other counts.
"Our lawsuit is very much alive and well," Blumenthal said Tuesday.
The law requires annual standardized tests for students in grades three through eight, to evaluate their progress and revise curriculum. States are required to correct problems in school districts that fall short.
Connecticut wants to continue its program of testing students every other year, in grades four, six and eight.
Spellings was told by local officials and educators at the University of Connecticut's Stamford campus that the federal government needs to spend more money on No Child Left Behind.
"Always feel free to send money," Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy told her.
But she warned her audience of 25 teachers, administrators and local elected officials that money won't be easy to obtain.
Margaret Hiller, executive director of Bridgeport Public Education Fund Inc., said the absence of national standards rules out the possibility of a level playing field.
Spellings rejected national standards.
"If we slap national standards on the United States of America it would not be a pretty thing," she said.
She repeated her support of so-called growth models that measure student progress by tracking the same children over time.
She said it's a recent effort to be flexible in enforcing the education law, moving in a different direction from requiring states to meet annual goals by comparing scores of different groups of youngsters from one year to the next, which many educators consider unfair.
"I'm a huge fan of the growth model," Spellings said.
The Department of Education plans to approve growth models for up to 10 states in a pilot program, with five already approved and two others approved conditionally. Those approved states are Iowa, North Carolina, Tennessee, Delaware and Arkansas. Ohio and Florida received conditional approval.
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