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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
April 20, 2006

Margaret Spellings
Good afternoon. I’m glad to join all of you today and answer your questions.

It’s been a busy week. On Tuesday, I was with the President at Parkland Magnet Middle School in Maryland and yesterday, we visited Tuskegee University in Alabama. In both places, the President discussed how critical it is that our students have a firm grasp of math and science if they are to compete and succeed in the new global economy.

After visiting India last week, I can tell you how true that message has become. I was able to see first hand how other nations are investing in technology and research and development, and a big part of that investment is going towards the education of their students.

Many Indian students are highly motivated and they are especially drawn to study in the fields of science, math, engineering, and technology. They see the stark contrast between poverty and opportunity and for them education means opportunity and a better life. They recognize that the fields of science and math are driving future job opportunities, because whether filling white collar or blue collar positions, employers want workers with “pocket protector” skills – practical problem-solvers fluent in today’s technology.

It’s our job to make sure American students have the skills they need to keep pace as the rest of the world catches up. The President and I believe that education is the key to continuing America’s legacy of innovation and with his American Competitiveness Initiative he has laid out a comprehensive plan to help students succeed in our knowledge economy.

So, with that being said, I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Brendan, from New York,, NY writes:
The Archdiocese of NY has announced a new round of school closings due to financial pressure. Does this not represent a threat to quality education in the inner cities? Has any progress been made on the school voucher issue?

Margaret Spellings
Hi Brendan, thanks for your question. I was just in New York two weeks ago talking about the importance of providing better education options for parents, including charter schools, private schools, and free tutoring. Your Governor has led the way in fighting for more educational options for families. And with No Child Left Behind, we have put in place a mechanism for parents to be able to transfer their child to a higher-performing public school or receive free tutoring.

But we also know that sometimes that’s not enough. Too many kids in urban schools do not have real options when it comes to choosing higher performing public schools. That is why President Bush has proposed the America's Opportunity Scholarship for Kids program that would provide scholarships of up to $4,000 for kids trapped in schools that have been in need of improvement for 5 or more years so that they can attend a private school of their choice or receive additional intensive after school tutoring. We have a basis for this program with the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships program, which for the past two years has provided scholarships for approximately 2,000 low-income students in the District of Columbia to attend the private school of their choice. The response to this program is high, and we hope to build local support for similar programs in other communities across the country.

Elizabeth, from Washington, DC writes:
Given the growing teacher shortage, particularly in math, science, and special education, what are the Department of Education's activities in the areas of teacher recruitment and alternative teacher certification?

Margaret Spellings
Great question, Elizabeth. Data shows that middle and high school math and science teachers are less likely than other teachers to have a major or minor in those subjects. And we know that teachers with subject matter expertise are vitally important if we expect students to master math and science concepts that prepare them for college and the workplace.

The Department currently provides up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness for math, science, and special education teachers who teach in high-need schools. And this year, in his 2007 budget proposal, the President proposed $25 million for an Adjunct Teacher Corps, where professionals with math and science expertise would be able to teach in secondary schools, either on a part-time or full-time basis. Colleges use adjunct professors to fill specific needs, and we think it’s time that we look at new ways to bring willing professionals into the classroom. The Department also provides grants for alternative certification programs in general, and there are many great organizations out there, like Teach for America and the New Teacher Project, that recruit and train teachers from non-traditional routes for the classroom.

David, from Zhang writes:
Dear mam,It's a pleasure to write to you. I'm a Chinese citizen who is interested in your education. You know, in our country, students have to pay a high education fee in getting highly education in universities. Many students,especilly students from remote and rural areas, can't afford the education fee. I want to know what you do in this matter. Thank you.

Margaret Spellings
David, thanks for writing all the way from China! Last week I was on your side of the world visiting India to lean more about the education systems there.

Students in the United States also have to pay tuition to attend college. That tuition ranges from low-cost community colleges to higher-priced private universities. The federal government, though, provides billions of dollars in financial assistance for students in the U.S., especially low-income students, because we understand how important it is to have a college degree to succeed in this globally competitive world.

Specifically, we provide Pell Grants to low-income students of up to $4,050 for the cost of attending college. Since coming into office, the number of Pell Grant recipients has risen by one million students and funding has increased from $8.8 billion to $12.7 billion. And Congress recently passed two new grant programs for college students, the Academic Competitiveness Grants and the SMART Grants. Academic Competitiveness Grants provide up $750 for college freshmen and $1300 for college sophomores who take a rigorous high school program of study, and SMART Grants provide up to $4,000 for college juniors and seniors who major in math, science, engineering, technology, and critical foreign languages. We know that students who take a rigorous high school curriculum are more prepared for college, and are more likely to be able to complete math and science majors in college.

Steve, from Denver, CO writes:
Ms. Spellings, I tutored for 10 years in a local elementary school. Colorado, as well as most (if not all) states gives their students an annual test (CSAP in Colorado's case) so that schools can be compared on a state-wide basis. I understand the importance of metrics (I worked for EDS for 33 years before retiring). However, schools spend an inordinate amount of time "teaching to the test." In other words, they work with the students so they will do as well as possible on the test. You would think that if they just taught 4th grade math (for example), they would be preparing students for the test. Unfortunately, it's not so. A percentage (I'm not sure what ) of their time is spend on coaching the students on how to be able to answer the questions based on how the question is worded. The students would learn more and the teachers would be much happier and more productive if there wasn't a CSAP test. But then, on the other hand, metrics are important. There's no easy answer. Any suggestions? I wish you the very best of luck in the future in your position. I know it's not an easy one. I'm sure you get criticized no matter what you say or do. Thanks, Steve, Denver, CO

Margaret Spellings
Steve, this is a question I hear frequently. Testing has been a part of the education enterprise since Socrates. Tests can, and should, fit right into your curriculum, if they are aligned with the subject matter you're teaching. A high-quality test is a tool for teachers and parents to measure student progress and know where students need more help. It shows administrators and policymakers what's working, and what they need to adjust. And it holds our schools accountable for the achievement of every student. As we say in Texas, what gets measured gets done. As President Bush said yesterday when talking about this very topic, “what ought to make you nervous is a school system that simply shuffles children through without understanding whether or not they've got the basics.”

And now that we’ve set up the accountability system framework in every State, we can look at adding more indicators, so that we ensure that students are getting an education in the subjects necessary to succeed.

Adam, from Detroit writes:
I applaud your efforts on "No Child Left Behind." But I think in some areas of the country, especially my city, technical schools may be better for our youth. With over half of 9th grade freshman gone before 12th grade graduation, do you think technical schools can provide an alternative to those that would otherwise drop out?

Margaret Spellings
Thanks for your question, Adam. I know, along with our nation’s governors and business leaders, that we need to do more to improve our high schools.

As it stands, almost half of American 17-year-olds do not have the basic understanding of math needed to qualify for a production associate's job at a modern auto plant. And in today's knowledge economy, higher education is more important than ever. Ninety percent of the fastest growing jobs will require at least some further education after high school. Also, it’s estimated that by 2012, over 40% of factory jobs will require higher education.

So I believe every high school--whether a technical school, traditional public school, charter school, or magnet school--should ensure that students have the knowledge and skills to be successful in college or the workplace. This is why President Bush has proposed a $1.5 billion High School Reform initiative which would focus on targeted interventions to help students who are most at risk of falling behind and dropping out of school as well as hold schools accountable for results.

If students don't have the skills needed for college, then their future options will be greatly limited. And that is not fair, or right.

Jeff, from Ely, Nevada writes:
How does the American education system rate compared to other countries in the world?

Margaret Spellings
Good question, Jeff — something more important than ever before as we move forward in today’s global economy. There is plenty of data out there that shows that we need to do better, particularly in the areas of math and science. Data is also showing that we are making progress, especially in the early grades.

The rest of the world is catching up with us. In 1970 the U.S. produced over 50% of the world’s science and engineering Ph.Ds, and that number is projected to fall to around 15% by 2010. And data on international assessments show us that American K-12 students are behind those in many other developed countries. On the most recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), American 15-year-olds ranked 24th out of 29 developed nations in mathematics literacy and problem solving. And only 7% of America’s 4th and 8th graders were “advanced” on the 2003 Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS), while 38% of Singaporean 4th graders and 44% of Singaporean 8th graders reached this level.

These statistics just highlight the need we have to improve the K-12 pipeline in math and science and provide more opportunities for students to take rigorous classes in school. This year, the President proposed the American Competitiveness Initiative, which provides $380 million in new funding here at the Department of Education to strengthen math and science education around the country. We’ve proposed Math Now for Elementary Schools and Math Now for Middle Schools to ensure that students are introduced to algebraic concepts early so that they can succeed in higher-level courses. And we’ve proposed a $90 million increase for the Advanced Placement program so that we train 70,000 math and science teachers in the next five years to teach these rigorous courses, especially in low-income schools. We are committed to making sure that students are prepared for this globally competitive world.

Joe, from Chicago, IL writes:
Why is "No Child Left Behind" so unpopular with teachers? All the teachers at my school hate it.

Margaret Spellings
Joe, I worry about this issue as well. Parents around the country want their children to be performing at grade level, and that’s not too much to ask. I also hear many stories about blaming anything unpopular on No Child Left Behind—I try to dispel as many of those myths as possible, because when we look at rising student achievement data from around the country, we know that things are headed in the right direction.

And the Department has undertaken several activities to provide assistance and training to teachers around the country. Our Teacher-to-Teacher summer workshops allow teachers to get free professional development at sites across the country—you can find more information at And next week I’ll be holding a No Child Left Behind Summit focused specifically on teachers. We know that NCLB is hard work, but I’m committed to helping our teachers make it work in the classroom.

Abby, from Greenville, South Carolina writes:
Secretary Of Education- I am a twelve year old girl in South Carolina attending middle school. I am very goal oriented , and would like to be in politics someday. Could you please give me some information about some svhools that I could go to to learn more about our government? Respestfully, Abby

Margaret Spellings
Abby, thanks for writing. It’s great that you have a goal and know what you want to do when you’re older. I have a daughter about your age, and my advice to both of you is the same: study hard in school, do your best, and challenge yourself by taking classes that will prepare you for college. If you are interested in politics, keep yourself informed of current events by reading the newspaper. You can also look at websites like to find more information on projects sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Almost any college you might attend would allow you to study politics, so keep working hard and I know you’ll achieve your goal!

Cliff, from Brimfield, Ohio writes:
Secretary Spellings: What do you think has caused the educational decline in the area's of math and science in the United States? And what steps can we take or are taking to reverse the trend? Thank You

Margaret Spellings
Hi Cliff, thanks for your question. The rest of the world is catching up to us in education, especially in the areas of math and science. Countries like China, India and South Korea are investing heavily in the areas of education, technology and R&D. Because of this, America no longer has the edge that it used to.

But we are not standing still; we are working to strengthen our education system, not only in reading, but also in the areas of math and science, so that our graduates will be prepared to compete in the global economy.

As part of the American Competitiveness Initiative I mentioned earlier, the President just announced on Tuesday the creation of the National Math Panel, which will bring together experts to evaluate the effectiveness of various approaches to teaching math, creating a research base to improve instructional methods for teachers. The proposed Math Now programs for elementary and middle school will use the findings of the National Math Panel to help ensure students develop the skills they need to take and pass Algebra and middle school and go on to more challenging coursework in high school.

You can find out more about the American Competitiveness Initiative at

Margaret Spellings
Thanks everyone for your interesting and insightful questions. It’s been great having the opportunity to chat with all of you and I look forward to being back to update you on our progress soon.

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