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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.

Dr. Eugene Hickok
Deputy Secretary of Education
June 21, 2004

Dr. Eugene Hickok
I am very grateful for the chance to spend some time trying to respond to citizens questions and observations about education in America. Secretary Paige and President Bush care very much about every child in this great nation and our goal is to make sure that every child receives the best education possible. Our goal is to make sure that no child is left behind. With that mind, I look forward to the conversation.

Danielle, from Waynesboro, PA writes:
As a teacher it is pleasure for me to be able to ask you a question. Since education is extremely important in my life. Do you believe the president will make any changes to NCLB? Such as a test for ESL students and also those who are MR. Thanks.

Dr. Eugene Hickok
We are constantly looking at ways to adjust NCLB as it is implemented. We do this through the regulatory process, and guidance offered by the department. We did make recent adjustments with regards to the accountability provisions and limited English proficiency students and with regard to accountability and special education students.

We try to balance a desire for every child to count with recognition that state and local policy will reflect state and local priorities. In the end, implementation of this law will require this kind of balance with an unswerving commitment to make sure every child counts.

Val, from Petaluma writes:
Could you please explain the country's need for math and science teachers projected for the next 5 to 10 years, so that I can make an educated decision?

Dr. Eugene Hickok
There is no doubt about the fact that this nation will need more teachers in math and science in the coming five to ten years. We are a knowledge-driven economy; we are quickly becoming a technology driven economy; we are an international economic competitor; and the jobs of the future will require skills and a knowledge base that we are only now beginning to understand. It is essential that more of our young people enter the workforce with advanced skills in math and science. That is only possible of course if they take math and science courses in K-12 and postsecondary that give them those skills.

And of course, those courses are only available if we have enough highly qualified math and science teachers. It is difficult to overstate how important this is to the national economy, to our nation's security and potentially to the fulfillment of young people's highest expectations for the future.

Hayley, from Garland, Texas writes:
Soon I will be a senior in high school and I was wondering if you would provide me with some advice on courses to take in college in order to prepare me for a future in high-level government. Also, if there is a particular school that is known for specializing and mastering the teaching of the courses, it wouldn't hurt to know. If there is any other advice you are willing to give to let me have an edge on the competition, I would be much appreciative.

Thank you, Hayley

Dr. Eugene Hickok
First of all, I'm glad to see that you are interested in a future in government. A democracy like ours needs to attract the best and brightest to public service. It is important work whether it takes place in your nation's capital, in your state's capital or your county seat. My advice is that you take a wide range of challenging courses that encourage you to think creatively, critically, analytically and morally.

And you complement such coursework with an emphasis on those issues you find most interesting. I wish you great success.

Nathan, from Raymore, MO writes:
What became of the school voucher program? It seems like an excellent way to introduce free market into the educational system and ensure the best possible education for everyone.

Dr. Eugene Hickok
Just recently, Congress passed in the President's budget, a school voucher program for Washington, DC. And as we speak, there are families in Washington who are looking at non--public schools they may want to send their child to this coming school year.

We feel school choice including non-public school choice (or vouchers) should be a part of the landscape of American education. It will encourage competition which we know encourages improvements and it empowers parents to pursue what they think is best for their children. What matters is the quality of education the child receives not where that child goes to school. We will watch with interest what happens in the schools of Washington DC in the coming years and our hope is as more and more of our families take advantage of school choice not only will their children do better, but the public schools of Washington DC will as well.

Mark, from Omaha, Nebraska writes:
Why does one state get more federal aid for schools than other states? I

understand the idea of population, but more is spent per child in one state than another. Why is that?

Dr. Eugene Hickok
Most federal taxpayer money going to states for public education are distributed based upon complex formulas that are defined in statutes. Most of it, is targeted at low-income, high-risk students populations -- taken into consideration since this data, welfare data and other indicators of wealth and population.

The purpose of the statute is to make sure that fed taxpayers dollars go where the need is greatest. And that formula is updated every year.

Carter, from Michigan writes:
What has the No Child Left Behind program done for the education?

Dr. Eugene Hickok
That is the right question to ask. The no child left behind act emphasizes four important principles

Empowering parents
Evidenced based research

All four are necessary to improve American education. The first two are all about making sure we know about how our schools are doing - and eradicating the achievement gap.

The second principle is making sure that students and parents have options when schools aren't successful. As we implement the law, flexibility is important so that state and local decision makers can exercise local discretion.

And evidenced based decision making is important to making sure that public policy is sound. This law which has been in place since Jan 2002 is already making a big difference across the country.

Celia, from Washington D.C. writes:
What do you think is the biggest challenge in the American Education system is, and what changes need to be made in order to over come those challenges?

Dr. Eugene Hickok
Probably the biggest challenge in American education is the need to be willing to think outside the box. We use agriculture calendar, an industrial model, and yet we live in a digital age. We've had the same basic system of public education for over 100 years. And while the world has changed dramatically during that time, the system has not. One reason NCLB is so important is that it will help our educators, our taxpayers and all of our citizens to ask questions of our system they haven't asked in the past.

This can lead to a transformation of education, indeed even a revolution in American education.

Robert, from Braintree, Mass writes:
Thank you for your service. What's the one piece of advice you often find

yourself giving to teachers and parents?

Dr. Eugene Hickok
The most important piece of advice I can give a teacher and/or a parent is something that I learned years ago as a college professor. It is the importance of listening. Good teaching begins with listening and the most important job of a parent is to be a good listener. As a college professor, I learned a lot from my students. Every bit as much as I probably taught them.

Great teachers have always been students first.

Dan, from Boulder writes:
Will there be any effort to make Public Education competitive with Charter Schools by doing anything with Teacher's Unions to restructure the pay scale to make sure that pay is not based on how long you stay? Can the Federal government do anything to restructure to the pay scale for public schools?

Dr. Eugene Hickok
The federal government traditionally has had no role to play in issues relating to local teacher contracts, collective bargaining, teachers salaries, benefits, etc. Having said that, I think there is great room for improvement in the way local school districts compensate teachers and contract for their services.

We need to value this profession more than they do. And in far too many places the collective bargaining process stands in the way of that. But it is primarily a local issue usually regulated with state policy.

Tera, from Charleston writes:
How has your experience as a professor helped you with understanding the educational system?

Dr. Eugene Hickok
As a professor I learned the importance of effective communications. I can't tell you how often I met great students who were having a difficult time communicating well on paper. Students who really needed to learn with precision and skill. Students who had good minds but had a difficult time articulating positions. Regardless of the course I was teaching, or the subject I was teaching, I found it very important to teach all of the students the central value of strong communication skills.

That can only happen as young people develop good reading and writing habits early in their education so that by the time they come to college they can think the discipline and think and write with clarity.

Claus, from Somerset, CA writes:
Hello Eugene Do you have anything to do with the plans for education in Iraq? I mean, I feel that it is important that we provide good education for the Iraqi kids now that they don't have to endure all the propaganda they were fed under Saddam. Your thoughts on that?

thank you for taking my question.

Dr. Eugene Hickok
It is a great question. The President working with men and women in Iraq, and Afghanistan for that matter is trying very hard to rebuild the infrastructure for education in both of those countries. We recognize if Iraq is to become a democracy, it must have citizens capable of self-government. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, "That is only possible if citizens are educated."

Education is the essential work of a democracy. Right now, in Iraq and Afghanistan, children are going to school -- including young women for the first time in years. Classes are being built, texts are being distributed, education is happening.

It is part of a broader humanitarian effort so that the citizens of these nations might once again be capable of governing themselves.

Brian, from Oxford writes:
Dear Dr. Hickok, It was a pleasure meeting you when I was a student the Pennsylvania Governor's School for International Relations in 1998.

There seems to be a constant struggle to balance the roles of the federal and state governments in educational policy. How do you see this relationship developing in the next decade?

Thank you for your service.

Dr. Eugene Hickok
Thanks for the question. I hope your time in the Governor's School in International Relations was successful. You are right there does need to be balance in federal and state activity in education. The great majority of the decisions made and the money spent is at the state and local level. And yet we know the American people consider improving education a national priority. I think for the foreseeable future it will be a national priority that still reflects state and local diversity and implementation. NCLB is an attempt to balance our national recognition the need to improve with a healthy appreciation for the role of states and their local subdivisions.

Kathryn, from Waldorf, Maryland writes:
I am a teacher in a middle school in Waldorf Maryland. Each year we do a reading contest with a theme. This coming school year, our theme is going to be Elect to Read and we are going to promote Patriotism and pride in our country. Does anyone from the White House Government do guest appearances to help promote the "at risk" population to continue their education? If so, how would I contact them? Thanks-

Dr. Eugene Hickok
I think it is great that your theme this year will be "Elected to Read" and that you plan to promote patriotism and pride in country. I can't think of a more fitting theme. We often have people visit schools all over the country and I'm sure if it can be arranged someone will be willing to visit your school. Just contact the Department of Education, Office of Public Affairs and we'll see what we can do....

Abby, from Kansas writes:
Tuition prices keep rising, while class hours stay the same, meaning I can only work so many hours per day and still keep the A. Students like myself are driving themselves very quickly into debt. Is this administration doing anything to keep education affordable? Thanks for the consideration.

Dr. Eugene Hickok
You raise an important point. The cost of higher education has increased at a rate exceeding the cost of living. And many students, such as you, are going into debt. The President since entering office has overseen a 47 percent increase in the Pell Grant program. That is the federal government's largest student aid program. And that is a healthy increase. But it is important for the leadership of our nation's colleges and universities to do whatever they can to minimize price increases. And for state legislators to recognize the value of their postsecondary institutions as they formulate their budgets.

Cliff, from Brimfield Ohio writes:
Mr. Secretary Like the cost of medical coverage. The cost for education is on the rise. Are we going to get to the point like the cost of medical coverage where the average person will be unable to afford a higher education? I see the cost of education is on the rise higher than the cost of living. I can see some real bumps in the road for the average American down the road,

Thank You

Dr. Eugene Hickok
You are right. The cost of education -- all of education -- continues to rise. As I mentioned to an earlier email, under President Bush's watch there has been a dramatic 47 percent increase in the Pell Grant budget. That has been in response to the increases in the costs of higher education. Just as importantly, America's taxpayers spent over $500 billion last year on K-12 education. That is more than we spent on national defense. What concerns us is that while the American taxpayer is incredibly generous in supporting education, we have not seen the kind of return we should on such a generous investment. That's why NCLB is so important. We need to change the terms of the discussion. We need to think about how we invest in education, not just how much we spend.

An investment mentality always asks what the return on the investment is. WE need a better return on our education investment.

Sarah, from Milledgeville, GA writes:
Dr. Hickok, do you think that the impact of blaming teachers for student's failures causes other people in a child's life to slack off thier influence duties to a child? Is there a way to enforce the entire community of children's lives to work together, and if so, how?

Dr. Eugene Hickok
First of all, if we are to improve America's public education, we need to aspire to greatness for every child and not spend time trying to blame anyone for anything. Successful schools are the product of strong leadership, engaged educators and engaged communities. Good schools demonstrate everyday, the importance of attitude and ownership. When teachers and students and parents feel a sense of ownership in the school and demonstrate a can-do attitude, good things happen.

Public policy can do many things, but in the end, public policy depend on men and women of goodwill getting the job done and that is so true if we are to improve America's schools.

Master, from Mishawaka, Indiana writes:
Dr. Hickok, I am a martial arts Master in Indiana and have work with children of differing educational and economical backgrounds for the last twenty years. Presently, I am attempting to build a facility in our community to help fulfill the needs of the underserved.

It is our goal to fill the void afterschool and provide an educational and safe place for children.

My question is, are there any government sponsorships to assist in this venture?

Thank you.

Sincerely, Master

Dr. Eugene Hickok
There may indeed be programs through which you might be able to get some financial support. In all likelihood, they would be after school community center supplemental educational services programs. You probably would need to partner with a local school district and be able to demonstrate what educational benefits you would provide students. I would encourage you to contact your local superintendent or school board and to explore those ideas on the Department of Education's web page.

R.D., from Maryville, Tennessee writes:
Dr. Hickock, As a firm supporter of President Bush and Secretary Paige and the "No Child Left Behind" Act I am always at a loss to defend the President and the Secretary when an opponent will state that "No Child" is an unfunded mandate that state's have to pay for and that "No Child" pushes kids with handicaps way to far in the area of achievement. Is this true? What should I tell them about these "No Child" Issues? Thanks for all you hard work.

Dr. Eugene Hickok
We hear the allegation of NCLB being an unfunded mandate all the time. Given the dramatic increases in the federal taxpayer contribution to K-12 education in the last 3 years, it is difficult to see how NCLB is unfunded.

Moreover, NCLB builds on earlier versions of the Elementary and Secondary education act. In other words, it builds on what Tennessee was already doing in K-12 accountability. So it is not an unfunded mandate.

With regards to special education, the law does indeed make the bold statement that in America every child counts. In far too many places, we have allowed ourselves to expect less of a student for whatever reason and this law says we need to stop that. We need to have every child be part of the accountability system and do whatever we can to help every child reach his or her potential. That includes special education students and while the law recognizes some of the unique challenges those students confront it will not allow any of us to turn our back on those students.

John, from Fort Lauderdale, FL writes:
Florida has been making incredible strides in improving the education system thanks to the pressure put on the Teachers Unions by the voucher system. Since minority parents benefit most from these programs, is there any effort to better organize those sectors to further back these efforts?

Dr. Eugene Hickok
We are engaged in conversations all over the country with minority parents and populations and organizations in an attempt to encourage them to challenge the "soft bigotry of low expectations." And the education establishment that in far too many places would prefer the status quo. Public education must always respond to its public. And we are eager to help anywhere and everywhere America's public getting charge of America's public education system again.

Edwin, from Washington, D.C. writes:
What was your major as an undergrad?

Dr. Eugene Hickok
My major was government and foreign affairs but I must tell you that I really enjoy English Literature particularly the romantics and history. I am a great advocate for the study of history.

MODERATOR QUESTION: Are you reading any books?

I'm reading a book about Jefferson..... It is a book about Jefferson and the decision on the Louisiana Purchase . I learned a lot about Lewis and Clark in Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. But I didn't know much about all the machinations behind the scenes of the Louisiana Purchase.

Dr. Eugene Hickok
It is truly amazing to be able to sit here in Washington and have the chance to engage people from all over the country in a conversation about what matters so much to this nation's future and to the future of all of our people. It is gratifying as well to see interested people to ask about where education is going and the difference they can make. Thanks for taking the time. I hope our paths cross someday.

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