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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.

Margaret Spellings
Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy
February 12, 2004

Margaret Spellings
Hi, great to be here. I'm looking forward to your questions, especially on education and No Child Left Behind. I see there is a lot of interest, and that's great. Let's get started.

Bill, from Maryville, Tennessee writes:
As you probably know, No Child Left Behind is a big, big topic of conversation in this part of Tennessee. Of course, the claim is that there is not enough funding to carry out the No Child Left Behind regulations. I'm not a teacher, but a very concerned parent.

1. Is this a legitimate argument? 2. What is your reaction to the statement that No Child Left Behind puts too much stress and pressure on students and teachers?

Margaret Spellings
Thanks Bill,

No Child left behind is not an unfunded mandate. With the President’s ’05 budget there will have been a 49% increase in federal funding since he took office.

He has made funds for reading instruction, funds for Title 1 – the main federal program devoted to our neediest students, and funds for special education students his priorities. While resources are certainly part of the equation, NCLB is about results for every child. It asks the question – what are we getting for our money – how are the kids doing.

NCLB really does cause us all –educators, policy makers and parents to focus on all kids by looking at the results we are getting. The old way was to mask the problems of underachievement and move kids through the system.

This cheats kids out of the preparation they need to succeed in life. NCLB moves us from denial into confronting reality. Test data helps us diagnose problems kids are having early so we can get them the help we need.

Daryn, from Middlefield, CT writes:
Can states or districts opt-out of NCLB if they have their own accountability measures that are equal to NCLB or more stringent?

Margaret Spellings
Thanks for your question. There are similar questions from Utah and Arizona -- so let me try to be responsive too all three with this answer.

NCLB offers resources to states that develop state accountability and testing systems. States who don’t want to meet those provisions can leave that money on the table and avoid accountability.

There is a question from Arizona on this point. If I were a parent in Arizona I would be looking at the fact that Arizona gets 490 million dollars from the federal govt and ask "can we afford to turn these resources down?"

Most importantly I would look at the achievement gap between Anglo and minority students there in Arizona – a 28 point gap in 4th grade reading for Hispanic kids, a 27 point gap for African Americans in 4th grade reading on the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress -- our nation's education report card.

This is the power of data and parents and citizens in Arizona, Connecticut and Utah should do the soul-searching of confronting the reality of disparate results between Anglos, African Americans and Hispanics. That's really what No Child Left Behind is all about!

Donnie, from Hartford writes:
I'm sick of hearing from the Connecticut Education Association that the federal government is not spending enough money.

You see ads all the time. They've got a petition going. In my mind, they believe you have to throw money at problems to fix them.

One question -- and fine, this can be considered a softball question -- BUT are the accountability standards working?

Margaret Spellings
Thanks Donnie

No Child Left Behind is in the 2nd year of implementation so it is early yet. But we are starting to see some positive signs. Last fall, we saw some good gains in mathematics with fourth and eighth graders and some recent successes in education were sustained in our most recent data.

In reading instruction, over a billion dollars has been sent to states to use for programs that work -- programs that are based on our most recent research on the brain and how kids learn to read for example.

Gary, from Wheeling, West Virginia writes:
There was a news report last night on WTOV-TV that said No Child Left Behind is underfunded nationwide by at least $7-billion this year. Is that accurate? How do you determine if something is underfunded?

Margaret Spellings
Thanks Gary

As I said earlier with President's Bush's 05 budget there will be a 49 percent increase in k-12 funding since the President took office. As recent as yesterday, an independent study by Accountability Works found that NCLB is not only not an unfunded mandate but they assert that states will have $785 million more than they need this upcoming school year to comply with the provisions of No Child Left Behind.

Moreover, with unexpended balances in the federal coffers it is hard to believe that if states can't spend the money that they are entitled to it is hard to believe that their claims of unfunded mandates are righteous.

Ray, from Tampa, Florida writes:
I understand there is an effort to improve the community colleges in this country. Please tell me what are the objectives of this effort. Also, I would like to know if employers have been surveyed to more closely understand their needs. I believe feedback from employers is critical to achieving success in this area.

Margaret Spellings
Hi Ray

Employers play a key role in the President's new Community-based Job Training Grants. This initiative provides $250 million in seed money to fund job training partnerships between community colleges and employers in local high-growth industries.

These new competitive Community-based Job Training grants would be used for training in community and technical colleges that can demonstrate a link with local employers looking for more skilled workers.

Discussions conducted by the Department of Labor with businesses across the country revealed that businesses in high-growth industries face increased difficulty in finding workers with the skills they need as technology and innovation are continuously change the nature of the workplace.

Over 80 percent of the 21st century jobs will require some postsecondary education. As a result, community colleges will be increasingly critical providers for workers needing to retool, refine and broaden their skills.

In addition, the President is looking to employers to play an increasingly greater role in the public workforce investment system by proposing reforms that would make the system more demand driven.

In other words, the Administration wants business to define where the jobs of the future will be and what skills are needed to prepare workers for those high demand jobs.

Rex, from Toledo writes:
Margaret, In today's Toledo Blade, there is a news story which discusses a poll conducted by Opinion Research Corp.

The poll stated that only 51 percent support the standardized testing required by the law and 45 percent of parents oppose the tests.

Why is this part of the law contentious?

Margaret Spellings
Testing, assessment, monitoring, etc. have been a part of the education process since Socrates. It is nothing new.

Testing helps teachers and parents know how kids are doing so they can celebrate their success and help them where they need it.

Well constructed tests, which under NCLB are selected by states, are designed to measure what states think kids should know. So, "teaching to the test" is ok so long as the test is testing what kids should know.

NCLB does set schools on a course to enhance achievement for all kids. For those who have been previously left behind or who have been underserved, it asks the grown-ups to do better by those kids. You can't fix a problem you don't know you have or have been unwilling to confront. And that is what testing helps us do.

Rachel, from New York City writes:
Do you realize that the nations capital's school system is by far the most disorganized in the nation. I work in 10 schools systems across the nation and DC cannot even pay their teachers, sign contracts, teach basic curriculums. It is an embarrassment and a crime to these children.

Margaret Spellings
While spending on Washington, DC schools is among the highest in the nation, test results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are low.

Of the 10 districts that participated in the 2003 Trial Urban District Assessment, DC students scored either last or second to last in 8 of 12 categories.

Only DC’s white fourth grade reading and math scores were above the national average. And, the achievement gap between DC’s white and black fourth-graders was 60 points in math and 70 points in reading, by far the largest among the 10 participating districts.

Parents and children in the District deserve better choices, so the Administration has been working closely with the District of Columbia to address this issue.

The 2004 Appropriations Act provide $13 million (plus $1 million for administrative and assessment costs) to the Secretary of Education for a scholarship program for DC schoolchildren from low-income families. This program is part of a three part package that includes additional assistance for DC public schools and DC charter schools.

The three part package also provides $13 million to the DC Public Schools (DCPS) for improvement of public education in the District. These funds are to be used to strengthen leadership and instructional excellence through principal and teacher recruitment and retention, and to increase student achievement through supplemental services and public school choice.

The package also provides $13 million for expansion of quality charter schools in the District; including $5 million to create five new charter schools, $6 million will be used for a direct loans fund (including not more than 5 percent for administrative expenses) and $2 million will be used for a one-time payment to the District’s Charter Schools Facilities Fund.

In addition, the President has requested $40 million to continue these efforts in the FY 2005 budget.

Mike, from Morgantown, PA writes:
No Child Left behind sounds like fantastic legislation....However, I do see one huge problem with it.... Why did the administration choose PROFICIENT as the lowest acceptable score for students? What is wrong with a score of BASIC?

If all American children were able to score basic or above we would be making a great deal of progress in educating our students.

We need people with a basic level of intelligence, the country was built on the backs of those people and no matter how advanced technology becomes we will always need factory workers, store clerks, fast food service people, etc...

In fact, they are the largest part of our workforce today and will continue to be far into the future.

Margaret Spellings
The Administration did not, nor did Congress, define proficient. NCLB asks states to make those determinations. Most states have defined proficient as "on grade level." As the President said in the State of the Union, "NCLB asks third graders to read at a third grade level and that is not asking too much."

Not doing so puts kids at a severe disadvantage both in education and in life.

Margaret Spellings
Wow. There is a lot of interest in this topic. I wish I could stay. I hope we can do this again very soon. These are great questions and deserve a response. No Child Left Behind will not be effective unless people understand and believe that it is fair, possible, doable, and the right thing to do for all American schoolchildren. Thanks again.

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