Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration Officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.
Today's guest: Secretary of Education, Rod Paige
Today marks a milestone in the history of education reform. We are announcing that states from Alabama to Alaska now have in place new accountability plans outlining how they will achieve the bold goal of making sure no child in America is left behind, no matter where they live. No Child Left Behind is the landmark education reform law designed to change the culture of America's schools by closing the achievement gap, offering more flexibility, giving parents more options, and teaching students based on what works. Americans have heard President Bush's call for meaningful education reform so that no child is left behind, they are joining forces with him to see that the mission is accomplished. Today marks the beginning - states have made extraordinary efforts to lay the foundation for education improvement and accountability.
Amy, from DC writes:
Mr. Secretary, When do you plan on having all the state accountability plans approved? Do you anticipate states will borrow good ideas from one another?
The law requires that all states submit an accountability plan to the Department of Education by January 2003. The law permits the department 120 days to review and approve those plans. Today represents the 120th day. And today the President announced that every one of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have had their plans approved. We congratulate each of the chief state school officers for their hard work and commitment to making this a reality.
Jessie, from Louisville, Kentucky writes:
Will the Early Reading First grant fund be available next year?
Yes. Competitions will be held each year for the next four years.
Ellen, from Education World, Wallingford, Conn. writes:
Secretary Paige, so far, which requirement of the NCLB Act have states and districts said is the most challenging to meet? What has been your office's response?
The No Child Left Behind Act 2001 is a very complex law. It is a tough law. It requires a change in the way business is being done in most states and schools. It has many challenging elements. But the requirement that appears the most challenging is the highly qualified teacher element of the law. While all schools and school districts agree that having a highly qualified teacher be in every classroom is important, some face challenges in insuring that every Title 1 school has highly qualified teachers this year. Adequate Yearly Progress is a close second; however, I am pleased that schools and school districts have accepted responsibility for the achievement of all of their students.
Chris, from Washington, DC writes:
Dear Secretary Paige, I wonder exactly where the school vouchers issue stands presently -- will such types of legislation still be pursued by the Administration? And what is it like working with for the President on such a priority as improving education for America? Thank you
This administration believes that choice is a necessary condition for authentic school reform. There are many types of choices. The NCLB Act provides choices to parents and students of schools that have been identified as in need of improvement. These students will have the opportunity to transfer to higher performing public schools. If the school is still in need of improvement the following year, then parents who remain at their school may request tutorial services for their children (supplemental educational services). Whereas the NCLB Act limits choice to public schools, there continues to be a strong interest in broadening choice for parents to include non public schools. An example of the success of this choice idea is the Pell grant program where public dollars are provided to students for use at public universities or non public universities and this has worked well for universities and students. Another example of this kind of expanded choice is the G.I. Bill where veterans were provided public dollars to attend private or public universities of their choice. We would like to provide these same kinds of advantages to public school students.
Mike, from Columbia,SC writes:
Secretary Paige, There have been some legislators who say the Dept. of Education should be abolished. How would you respond to that sentiment?
Yes there has been a call by some legislators to abolish the Department of Education, but not recently. I think most legislators would agree that the Department of today is a high quality federal agency with outstanding performance. In 1983 my predecessor Terrell Bell published a document called A Nation at Risk. Interestingly it was not called Some States at Risk. The title suggests that there is a national interest in this nation's education system although the system is run by the individual states. So states have direct responsibility but there exists a national interest. States are interested in state interests, school districts have school district interests, schools are primarily concerned with school interests, and parents are primarily concerned with the interests of their children. So therefore the U.S. Department of Education is the only entity that represents the national interest for education, therefore an effective and efficient Department of Education such as we are creating now is a necessary condition to protect our national interests in education.
Brent, from Baltimore, MD writes:
Secretary Paige, While I support your No Child Left Behind initiative, how can we say that no child is left behind when there continues to exist an enormous disparity between well-funded suburban schools and their poor urban counterparts? It seems that an entire segment of our population - often those who most need our help - is being left behind.
While many people assume that students in suburban districts are more highly funded than their counterparts in inner city urban districts a recent study by the General Accounting Office noted that this is not always the case. States across America have developed education funding systems that target additional resources for students who are economically disadvantaged, english language learners, or students with disabilities as a result the school districts with a high number of these students receive more state funding than their suburban counterparts. In addition, the federal government provides over 11 billion dollars a year targeted to schools with high numbers of disadvantaged students. As a result of these two funding sources, therefore, urban school districts have the funds required to improve the quality of education for their students. Accountability results have encouraged many urban school districts to rethink how they use their education dollars to more effectively educate their students.
Margot, from Washington, DC
One of the fundemental forces behind No Child Left Behind is standardized testing. Is it fair or effective to hold students and educators accountable for their scores when it is clear that the notion of the standard student is nonexistent? To clairfy, to measure the success of No Child Left Behind exclusively through the use of standardized tests seems unreasonable when students, educators, and curricula differ dramatically from school to school.
The NCLB Act requires states to establish statewide assessments that are aligned with the standards identified as important by that state. These are not norm reference tests that compare students to other students. Instead these assessments measure whether the students have mastered the knowledge and skills required for their grade level. Thus we are not talking about "a standard student" performance but an identification of the strengths and weaknesses of each student, vis a vis the standards. While students do differ from school to school the assessment standard represents what that state wants every child to achieve before leaving school. Knowing where each student is enables teachers and administrators to improve a curriculum and instruction offered to that child.
Thank you all for your questions today it has been fun and I hope to do this again soon.