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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
Secretary of Education

January 9, 2006

Margaret Spellings
Good afternoon. It's an honor and pleasure to speak with you today. I'm always impressed by the quality and range of questions I receive on Ask the White House, and I'm sure today will be no different.

Yesterday was a special day for our schools and students. It was the fourth anniversary of the President's signing of the No Child Left Behind Act. Today the President, the First Lady, and I visited North Glen Elementary School in Maryland. I spoke with its dedicated principal and teachers and hard-working students who are making the law work. Since 2003 the school, with a diverse and economically challenged student body, has made great gains in reading and math scores, and is dramatically closing its "achievement gap" between white and African American students.

I believe that all schools can do as well as North Glen. And I'm excited to see the academic progress that's been made nationally in the early grades over the last four years. Now the President and I are working to bring high standards and accountability to our high schools so that all graduates have the skills to succeed in a highly competitive world. With that in mind, I look forward to your questions.

Sally, from Glen Burnie, MD writes:
This really isn't a question but a statement. You will be visiting one of the schools where I am a computer support tech. I am so very excited to have the opportunity to meet you. I had decided that I would do some online research to find out more about you and was excited to find this area of the website and the link to many lesson plans for teachers to use. I will be adding this

information to my monthly technology newsletter to the staff. Looking forward to meeting you.

Margaret Spellings
Sally, it was great meeting you this morning when I visited North Glen Elementary with President and Mrs. Bush--you have a lot to be proud of. Thanks for all of your great work at North Glen and in the other schools in which you work.

North Glen Elementary proves that No Child Left Behind is working and that we can close the achievement gap. This can be done, and your school exemplifies that.

I'm also glad you found our online resources for teachers. Our Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative includes online professional development and summer workshops for teachers. You can find more information at

Cliff, from Brimfield, Ohio writes:
Secrectary Spellings: This being the 4th year of the NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND PROGRAM. What does the report card say for the progress? What are the numbers for the children? Thank You

Margaret Spellings
Thanks for your question, Cliff. I am pleased to report that No Child Left Behind is working. The long-term Nation's Report Card results released this past summer showed elementary school student math and reading achievement at an all time high and the achievement gap closing. For example, reading and math scores for African American and Hispanic nine-year-olds are at an all time high. The state-by-state Nation's Report Card results released in October also showed improved achievement in the earlier grades in which NCLB is focused. And the NAEP urban district assessment, released in December, showed students in select urban districts improving faster than their peers across the nation over the past two years. For example, fourth-graders in eight of the 10 urban districts made larger gains in math scores than the national average.

And I am pleased to report that many children are benefiting from the public school choice and free tutoring provisions of the law. The most recent data we have available show that 233,000 students participated in Supplemental Educational Services and 32,000 students participated in public school choice during the 2003-04 school year. And we are working on ways to increase the number of children taking advantage of these opportunities.

And last, but not least, No Child Left Behind's Reading First program is working to improve reading instruction and student achievement throughout the country. To date, over 100,000 teachers have been trained through participation in Reading First and over 2.3 million K-3 students have benefited.

At the same time, the federal government has put increased resources on the table for K-12 education. Funding for K-12 has increased by 41% since 2001, from $24.7 billion in 2001 to $35 billion in 2006. Title I funding for disadvantaged students has increased by 45% in that same time period, and reading funding has quadrupled.

Kellen, from Arlington writes:
First off, I wanted to say thank you for doing such a great job. I have heard a lot of good things about you. My question is about No Child Left Behind. I have heard quite a few criticisms about a few parts of the law. Are there any plans to continue to shape the policy or to iron out some of the parts that may or may not be working as well as hoped? Thanks.

Margaret Spellings
Hi Kellen, thanks for your question. When I started as Secretary of Education almost a year ago, I made it my goal to ensure that No Child Left Behind is implemented in a fair and sensible manner while at the same time making sure that states are adhering to the core principles--like annual assessment and a closing of the achievement gap. One area where I have increased flexibility is with student with disabilities. I recently announced new regulations that are designed to meet the needs of students with disabilities who may not reach grade level within the same time frame as their peers, but who can make significant strides given the right instruction. They also contain key criteria to protect students with disabilities from being inappropriately assessed against modified achievement standards. Also, I have also initiated Supplemental Education Services (SES) pilot projects for the 2005-06 school year. These pilots will ensure that more students are receiving after-school tutoring and give us better information as to how this program is leading to increased student achievement for low-income students.

In November, I also announced a growth model pilot project, which will allow up to 10 states to incorporate high-quality growth models, which capture individual student learning growth, into their accountability systems. State, though, must have annual assessment, a strong data system, and the goal of all kids proficient in 2013-14 to be approved under this pilot.

As we move forward with the implementation of No Child Left Behind, I will continue to listen to ideas about how to strengthen No Child Left Behind and to work with States to ensure that the law remains a positive tool for raising student achievement and closing the achievement gap.

Kim, from Kentucky writes:
Hi Margaret, Congrats on 4 years of NCLB...I know that you are seeing real progress since it began, and that students are benefiting from the curriculum accountability of schools. I was surprised to read that the U.S. ranked 27 out of 39 in the Program for International Student Assessment re: math, literacy, and problem solving. Is this both an education problem and a societal problem (i.e. lack of parent involvment

etc.)? I am really, really interested to see how the President's 1.5 billion H.S. Initiative helps with the problem Good Luck

Margaret Spellings
Thanks for your question, Kim. It is true that the U.S. high school students do not rank very high on international math assessments. While No Child Left Behind is working to improve reading and math achievement in grades 3-8, more needs to be done at the high school level. This is why the President has announced the High School Initiative, which will provide resources for a high school intervention program for students most at risk of not completing school.

In order for the United States to maintain a competitive edge in the global economy, it is imperative that we strengthen secondary education, particularly in the areas of math and science, so that students will have the skills they need to enter college and the workforce ready to succeed. We have already supported increases in funding for the Advanced Placement program and for Striving Readers, which provides research-based interventions for middle and high school students who are not reading on grade level. You will see me continue to emphasize the importance of high school reform and math and science as issues important to our global competitiveness this year.

Josh, from Chicago, IL writes:
Hi, Secretary Spellings.Does No Child Left Behind affect only public schools, or does it affect private and parochial schools as well? Also, how, if at all, does it affect public and private universities? Thank you

Margaret Spellings
Thanks for writing, Josh. No Child Left Behind mainly affects public schools, although there are provisions in the law which provide opportunities for private school students and teachers to benefit from the funding of the Act. For example, private school teachers can take part in professional development opportunities in their local school districts thanks to Title II funding of the No Child Left Behind Act. To find out more information about how NCLB affects private schools, go to this website:

Giorgio, from Wynnewood, PA writes:
With the emphasis on science and math education, are there any new initiatives to facilitate the entry into teaching of science and engineering professionals as a part-time career? I am a stay-at-home dad

after 10 years in chemical research, and have found part-time positions only in the private school sector. Public schools that have programs for

concurrent certification (like Philadelphia) require a full-time commitment. Moreover, many of the course requirements for certification seem to me redundant or inappropriate for established professionals. I am quite willing to take lower pay for the opportunity to teach, but I really don't like to have my intelligence insulted.

Margaret Spellings
Giorgio, you sound like the perfect candidate for the Department of Education's proposed Adjunct Teacher Corps program. Adjunct Teacher Corps is a proposed program of grants to school districts in partnership with public or private entities to give well-qualified individuals outside the public education system the opportunity to teach in classrooms. We know that many professionals, like yourself, with backgrounds in math and science could help us alleviate the shortage of teachers with content knowledge in those areas. In fact, some private companies like IBM have recently initiated programs to offer individuals like yourself the opportunity to teach in the classroom either full- or part-time. Thanks for your willingness to teach, and I will continue to work to expand programs that offer these types of opportunities to math and science professionals.

Joel, from Superior, WI writes:
Ms. Spellings, I am a 10th grader at a 1,600 student school in Superior, WI. Over the last couple of years, we have had many cutbacks in our fine arts departments. I was wondering what is being done to limit the amount of fine arts cutbacks.

Margaret Spellings
Joel, thanks for your question--I always enjoy hearing from students. NCLB is about getting results in reading and math not simply moving students through the system. Many educators across the country have shown that a focus in NCLB on reading and math is not mutually exclusive of the arts and music. In fact, we all know that a well-rounded curriculum that includes the arts and music contributes to higher academic achievement. We will continue to emphasize that point as we talk to educators across the country.

Stephanie, from Temple, Texas writes:
What about those who were raised in "challenged households"? I am almost 40 and want to turn my life around. After suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction (I have 6 years clean) which is "the family cycle" I am always

finding roadblocks in terms of financing a higher education. I would like to break the cycle and teach others how to do it, and hopefully help others not to fall into the same "victim mentality" that once imprisoned me Any

suggestions on grants, etc... that would help me in any of those areas?

Margaret Spellings
Thank you for your question. I congratulate you on your success in overcoming your alcohol and drug addictions and applaud your efforts to turn to higher education to improve your life and help others! The U.S. Department of Education estimates that 90 million individuals participate in some form of adult education each year, including training and basic education offered outside traditional higher education. To serve students like yourself, most colleges have structured programs and services specifically for adult learners. Forty percent of American college students, or almost 6 million people, are 25 years of age or older. The Department's Federal Student Aid (FSA) programs are the largest source of student aid in America, and these programs provide more than $60 billion a year in grants, loans, and work-study assistance.

To meet the needs of all students who are trying to figure out the best way to finance their higher education, the Department of Education has created an effective resource called The Federal Student Aid Information Center. The Center is accessible online at to help students complete the student aid applications and to provide the public with free information about our programs. You can also call 1-800-4-FED-AID to speak to a specialist about our student aid programs (which include Pell grants, Stafford loans, PLUS loans, and the "campus-based" programs: Federal Work Study, Perkins loans, and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity grants). All of these programs are helping students of all ages reach the goal of higher education.

I wish you the best of luck as you pursue your education and model your behavior for others.

Laurie, from Richmond Virginia writes:
As a graduate student, I would like to know how cutting educational loans will strengthen the country. I realize that I am only a nurse, but I do not understand how cutting funding for the elderly and disabled and students

will benefit our economy. Wouldn't cuts for special interest groups be more beneficial?

Margaret Spellings
Thank you for your question. The so-called cuts you have heard about in the news are cuts to special interests, not to students. No student will have their aid cut next year because of these very necessary reforms, and in fact more money will be made available by the Federal Government for student aid.

The Department of Education continues to work to make sure that all students in America have the opportunity to go to college. This year's budget included important reforms to the student-loan programs. These reforms included reducing unnecessary subsidies and payment to lenders, guaranty agencies, and loan consolidators. The fees a student pays when taking out a student loan will be eliminated over the next several years and students will be able to borrow more money if the need arises.

In addition, the Federal Government will provide increased funds for low-income students who take a rigorous academic curriculum in high school and provide grant funds for college juniors and seniors who study math, science and critical foreign languages. At the same time, students who enter the teaching profession and teach math, science or a foreign language will be eligible to have up to $17,500 in student loans forgiven in return for their service. So contrary to what you hear in the news, more money will be made available to students then ever before.

I appreciate your question and thank you for your work in the field of nursing.

Moi, from Houston writes:
Secretary Spellings, The cost of higher education goes up faster than the rate of inflation. What could you do to hold down the cost of higher education and make higher education affordable to middle income Americans?

Margaret Spellings
Moi, in my previous answer to Laurie, you'll find information on the Department's increasing support for student financial aid. In addition, earlier this year I created a commission on the future of higher education to develop a comprehensive national strategy on postsecondary education and ensure that college is affordable, accessible, and preparing students for the jobs of the 21st century. The commission will be reporting to me in August, and I look forward to their recommendations.

The chairman of that commission, Charles Miller, is from Houston too, which also happens to be my hometown! Thanks for your question.

Dee, from Oregon writes:
With the funding cuts we lost Advance placement courses for kids. If high expectations is a priority how come we saved sports, and cut AP courses and remedial reading instruction at the earliest levels? How could we have local control, yet allow administrators to be so neglectful? Also what could we do to improve on situations that use money excuses in order to neglect the needs of special education kids on both end, the low and high ends? When catering to the norms this often is a problem in schools that look just to meet the standards.

Margaret Spellings
Hi Dee, thanks for your question. The President and I agree that both Advanced Placement courses and scientifically based reading instruction are critical tools to raising student achievement. In fact, an important part of No Child Left Behind is Reading First, which has provided nearly $4 billion to states over the past 4 years to implement scientifically based reading programs in grades K-3. And now we also have the Striving Readers program, which is geared toward helping high school students who are reading below grade level.

Since President Bush first took office, funding for the Advanced Placement program has increased 46 percent, from $22 million in FY 2001 to $32.2 million in FY 2006. This program is helping more students, particularly low-income students, participate and succeed in AP courses and exams.

In order to provide all children a quality education, schools must be held accountable for educating every child, and No Child Left Behind is providing the tools to help schools do this.

Douglas, from Louisville, KY writes:
I would like to know more about the language initiative the President has spoken of. I would like to learn a language and I am actively seeking an

opportunity to study Russian. How do I apply for these programs, and when will they be available?

Margaret Spellings
Thanks for your question and for your interest in studying foreign language! Just last week, President Bush announced $114 million in proposed funding in the 2007 budget for the National Security Language Initiative. In order to remain competitive and ensure our national security, more students must master critical need language skills in languages like Chinese, Arabic, Russian, and Korean. The Departments of State, Education, Defense, and the Director of National Intelligence have worked together to propose a set of initiatives that make up the National Security Language Initiative.

As part of this proposal, the Department of Education is requesting $57 million in 2007 for its specific initiatives, including grants to partnerships of colleges and K-12 school districts to create critical need language programs that span from kindergarten through university; teacher training in best practices for foreign language teachers in best practices; and options for critical need language speakers to teach in the classroom. For more information on this initiative, please go to our website at

Good luck with your Russian studies!

Haley, from Richmond,Kentucky writes:
Since Hurrciane Katrina hit what do you thinnk needs to be done with the

Students,Tecahers,Princples and the rest for No Child Left Behind Act?

Margaret Spellings
Last Thursday, less than a week after President Bush signed the Hurricane Education Recovery Act into law, we made the first $253 million in much needed resources available to the most heavily impacted states. These funds were merely a first installment of the total $1.6 billion that the Department of Education received to aid schools and students impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

In addition, the Department has been in close consultation with state and local education officials to learn how we can best assist in their recovery. And our Hurricane Help for Schools Web page (HHFS) at continues to match up schools in need with schools, organizations, business and individuals willing to donated needed supplies and equipment. To date, HHFS has made nearly 600 matches between schools and donors.

This devastating hurricane not only impacted students but affected teachers and school officials as well. Our efforts are ongoing and our support is unwavering to ensure that these children continue to receive a high quality education and that school officials have the support they need from us under these unique circumstances. In October, my Department made available a new booklet -- "Tips for Helping Students Recovering from Traumatic Events" -- to provide practical information and assistance for school officials, parents and others who are helping students affected by the hurricane. The booklet can be accessed at

Margaret Spellings
Thank you, everyone, for those questions. I appreciate your keen interest in education. Until next time, I wish you all a year full of learning!

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