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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.

Tom Luce
Assistant Secretary of the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development
U.S. Department of Education

October 21, 2005

Tom Luce
Thanks for the opportunity to answer your questions today. On Wednesday, the Nation's Report Card was released, showing steady growth and gains by America's schoolchildren. The results, from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2005 exam of fourth- and eighth-graders in reading and math, show that real progress is being made in helping to ensure the promise of No Child Left Behind.

Jan, from Miramar, Calif. writes:
Mr. Luce, I am happy to hear that the achievement gap is closing for Hispanic and African Americans. It is long time that someone in govt realize that a strong education provides for future success. What is the next phase of NCLB?

Tom Luce
Jan, thanks for that question. The recent results from the Nation’s Report Card show gains for our nation’s students, especially Hispanic and African-American students. African American and Hispanic fourth-graders posted the highest reading and math scores in the history of the test. At the same time, we also see achievement gaps closing. The achievement gap between white and Hispanic fourth-graders narrowed, reaching an all-time low in reading and matching its all-time low in math. And the achievement gaps in eighth-grade math between white and African American students, and between white and Hispanic students, narrowed to their lowest points since 1990.

These results confirm the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act to focus on the achievement of each and every student and to close achievement gaps that have persisted for too long. We at the Department will continue to focus on helping schools and teachers close the achievement gap. We also know from the NAEP results that we have more work to do, especially in the middle and high school years, so we are turning our attention to high school reform. We know that only 68 of every 100 entering ninth-graders ends up graduating from high school four years later, so the President has proposed a high school initiative to help ensure that every student graduates from high school with the skills and knowledge they need to enter college or the workforce.

Nat, from Lancaster, Pennsylvania writes:
Mr. Luce, NCLB penalizes schools that don't make adequate yearly progress; they lose money, and they lose students to other schools. If the school loses funding for what might be its most valuable assets-- advanced placement programs, music programs-- doesn't that simply set the stage for the privatization of education? A decrease in test scores at the schools that start out performing poorly-- then these schools lose extracurricular funding, then they lose their students.How can you even attempt to argue that NCLB improves the quality of our education system? By motivating schools, for fear that they might lose funding?

Tom Luce
Nat, thanks for your question. NCLB does not penalize schools or take their money away. Rather, it gives schools the tools to know which students need more help. If a school does not improve for several years in a row, then those schools need to create a school improvement plan, offer students after-school tutoring, or give students the option to transfer to another public school. It is our goal to help schools that don’t make adequate yearly progress so that they do make progress the following year. And we are working on providing more tools to educators across the country so they can take steps to increase student achievement.

Denise, from Alabama writes:
did we do better on the nations report card this year? my paper said that it wasn't that good, but then said things were up. what's the story?

Tom Luce
Thanks Denise. The Nation's Report Card echoes the positive results shown by NAEP's Long-Term Trend data, which was released in July 2005. The new results show across-the-board improvements in mathematics and in fourth-grade reading, with African American and Hispanic students posting all-time highs in a number of categories. Across the country, a majority of states improved academically or held steady. Overall fourth-grade and eighth-grade math scores rose to all-time highs, and overall fourth-grade reading scores matched the all-time high. But we also know from the results that we have more work to do to help older students stay on track. That’s why we are focusing our efforts on extending the accountability and high standards of NCLB to high school.

Kenneth, from Cottage Grove, MN writes:
Why were the test scores of Special Needs children, who could not pass the NCLB tests, included in the aggregate results from two years ago? Why were the scores of Special Needs children NOT included in the just released aggregate scores? Was it to create the illusion of progress?

Tom Luce
Thanks for you question, Kenneth. Students with disabilities are included in the NAEP assessment and I am pleased to report that their scores are improving and the achievement gap is closing. For example, fourth grade students with disabilities improved five points on the reading assessment between 2003 and 2005 while other students improved one point. And on the fourth grade math assessment, students with disabilities improved five points while other students improved three points. While we know that more work needs to be done, these improved scores for students with disabilities are evidence that as a nation we are beginning to pay more attention to raising the achievement of students with disabilities and that our efforts are making a difference for these kids.

R.D., from Furman University writes:
Mr. Luce, Being at college I still hear a criticism of the NCLB Act that says it is vastly underfunded by the Bush Administration? They say that although funding for education has increased under President Bush, it has not been supplemented to NCLB Act in an effective way. How would you respond to this? Thanks.

Tom Luce
R.D., thanks for writing in. Funding for NCLB has increased significantly since President Bush has been in office. Since 2001, funding under No Child Left Behind has increased over 40%, and funding for high-priority programs has also increased. The President’s 2006 budget request would increase Title I funding, which helps low-income students achieve on grade level, by 52% since 2001.

One of the great things about NCLB and the Nation’s Report Card, though, is that they show us the results of our funding. We know from the Report Card that we are making progress in our elementary years, especially for minority students, but that we have more work to do in middle and high school. That’s why we are continuing to focus on NCLB, but also turning toward the issue of high school reform.

Steven, from Wichita, Kansas writes:
As reported in the Washington Post today (10-20-05), there has been precious little achievement progress realized as a result of NCLB. Isn't it time to scrap this program?

Tom Luce
Steven, thanks for asking. We know from this week’s data that we are making progress in reading and math in the elementary school years. Other data confirms that. This past July, the long-term trend results of the Nation’s Report Card were released, and they showed that America’s 9-year-olds are posting the best scores in reading and math in the history of this report, which dates to 1971 for reading and 1973 for math. And 13-year-olds have earned the highest math scores the test has ever recorded. In addition, achievement results from states across the country show that many states are making gains. States like Maryland and Georgia showed significant improvements this year. While we still have a lot of progress to make, we are on the right track, and we know that more gains can be realized with the hard work of teachers and principals across this country.

Melinda, from Hagerstown, MD writes:
How does the NCLB help kids who are struggling with a subject? For instance, my child has struggled in Math since the first year the NCLB was enacted. Her teacher was so frustrated by the restrictions of NCLB that all but three kids in the class failed 7th grade Math. The teacher blamed everything on NCLB, saying that she could only spend a certain amount of time on each section and if a child did not understand it, they had to move on anyway. This prevents a child from learning. Kids aren't made from cookie cutters and they don't all learn at the same pace. It seems NCLB does not account for that. I think it's awful and every teacher I've spoke to despises it. So once again, how does the NCLB Act help kids who are stuggling with a subject?

Tom Luce
Melinda, thank your for your question. No Child Left Behind places a special emphasis on reading and math by requiring states to assess their students yearly in grades 3-8 and once in high school. Thanks to these assessments, parents and teachers know how well their child is learning and when he or she needs extra help. In the past, many children were just shuffled through the school system with no one knowing whether or not they knew the basic math and reading skills they need to succeed. Getting every child up to grade level requires hard work, but we know it can be done. No Child Left Behind is not easy, but holding schools accountable for making sure all kids are learning is the right thing to do.

Frank, from Alpharetta, GA writes:
The NCLB policy success is based on standardized math and reading test. Should we also be testing on skill in Science? If funding is based on the success of these tests, then it would encourage school districts to concentrate on just the skills being tested. Numbers indicate that the US is losing it advantage in Engineering and Science based on the number of foreign vs. American college students seeking degrees in Engineering and Science. What will be done to keep those advantages in the US? Thank you.

Tom Luce
Frank, I am glad you asked this question. Improving our students’ math and science skills is critical in today’s globally competitive economy and a top priority of this Administration. By the 2007-08 school year, NCLB requires states to assess their students in science at least once during grades 3-5; 6-9; and 10-12. Here at the Department we have convened top experts from around the country to help us develop policies that will strengthen our nation’s high schools so that more students will receive the skills they need to pursue higher education and careers in the math and science fields. Also, to encourage students to pursue math and science in college, President Bush has proposed the Presidential Math and Science Scholars program which would provide additional grants of $5,000 to low-income students who major in math or science during college. We know that we all need to do more to focus on this issue, and you’ll continue to hear us talk about it and work with Congress to address this important issue.

Vaasu, from California writes:
I am glad that test scores are on the rise. However, what is the plan to ensure larger gains in the future? Also, what is being done to improve high school education? Are federal grants for students willing to attend college being increased? Thank you for your time, Mr. Luce.

Tom Luce
Vaasu, we know from the Nation’s Report Card results that we are on the right track with NCLB. We know that with high standards, assessment, and accountability we will raise achievement. In fact, many other studies also show that achievement is rising under NCLB. According to a study released in March 2005 by the Council of the Great City Schools, urban students are improving in reading and math achievement.

But we know we have more work to do in high schools. That’s why President Bush proposed a High School Reform Initiative in his 2006 budget. He also proposed increased funding for programs like Striving Readers, which uses research-based instruction to catch up middle- and high-school students who are behind in reading, and Advanced Placement, which increases the rigor of high school courses and improves student achievement. The President and Secretary Spellings will continue to address this issue in the coming years.

With regard to grants for college, the President put forward a plan in his 2005 budget to increase the Pell Grant, which provides grant aid to low-income students for college, by $500 over five years. We are committed to providing increased aid to students to attend college, and we are working with the Congress to make this proposal a reality.

Tom Luce
Thanks to everyone for your great comments and questions. We at the Department of Education look forward to doing this again as we see more progress under NCLB.

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